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Thursday, June 10, 2021

Kjetil Mulelid - Piano (Rune Grammofon, 2021) ***½

By Martin Schray

Not only for fans of Keith Jarrett it was sad news that the probably most popular and most famous jazz pianist of the last 50 years had to announce that he wouldn’t be able to perform live any longer and wouldn’t release new studio recordings either. The New York Times had reported in a detailed article on 10/21/2020 that Jarrett had suffered two strokes within a few months in 2018, from which he hadn’t recovered by that time. For Jarrett aficionados it may be a consolation that almost all of the maestro’s concerts have been recorded by his record company ECM in recent years and that there will be further releases from this archive, such as the Budapest Concert, which was published last year.

However, the question remains: Who might be able to fill Jarrett’s shoes? Of course, there already are big names lined up: Vijay Iyer, Brad Mehldau and John Medeski might come to mind, maybe James Francies or Kris Davies. And there’s a new name to consider - Kjetil Mulelid. Though he was only 29 years old when composing and recording Piano, his first solo album, Mulelid is one of the brightest talents in Norwegian jazz. First he was skeptical when Rune Grammofon, his record company, suggested a solo piano record back in early 2018, but thought it over during the pandemic since other projects had to be postponed. Most of the compositions on the album were written in a lockdown period and recorded within one day in the legendary Athletic Sound studio on their characteristic vintage Bösendorfer grand piano.

Piano is a promising start for a solo premiere, even if it’s very reminiscent of Keith Jarrett’s Köln Concert. Like his obvious role model, Mulelid shifts gravitationally between major and minor chords. These major and minor voices are polyphonically interwoven and excessively spread. The result is a mixture of meditative and ecstatic sound worlds. Pieces like “Beginning“ present motifs of hymnal intimacy as well as outbursts and thrills of dramatic wildness. Impressionistic floating sound paintings are displayed even if Mulelid’s pieces lack Jarrett’s exorbitance. The music is often based on simple patterns and pure triads, but this is by no means kitschy, since Mulelid’s compositions breathe a great sense of purpose. Themes are quickly developed, continued and transferred into the following one. There are, of course, the floods of melody-drunk sounds like in “Point of View“ and some material could have been a bit smokier and more adventurous. However, sometimes one also yearns for simple, harmonic beauty, which is served without restraint on this album.

It’ll be really interesting to follow Kjetil Mulelid’s career, he might become one of the big names in future jazz. Next stop: ECM.

Piano is available on vinyl and as a CD. You can buy it from the label:

Listen to “Beginning“ here: