La Notte was commissioned by the Norway Molde International Jazz Festival, from which this 2010 concert recording comes. The work, which blends jazz improvisation and new age meditation, is familiar territory for both the label and pianist/composer Bjørnstad (who is celebrating his 20th anniversary on ECM), but with a few twists. A tribute to Michelangelo Antonioni, it occasionally (as on the waltz “II”) partakes of the Italian filmmaker’s exuberance, offering contrast to the pensive beauty for which Bjørnstad is noted. Some movements of this eight-piece suite use a slightly larger band than his norm, a multi-national sextet in which tenor/soprano saxophonist Andy Sheppard provides echoes of ECM icon Jan Garbarek and guitarist Eivind Aarset’s pastel washes of guitar and electronics lend new textures to Bjørnstad’s music.
Less unexpected, but just as emotionally effective, is the highlighting of Anja Lechner’s cello on the most melodic pieces; the moment on “IV” when cello and tenor sax play in unison before Lechner bows the same lines in a dry, whispering timbre is a particularly masterful arranging touch. The prettiness is deepened by darker undertones, another fittingly Antonioni-esque touch. On the wildly improvisational duets cycling through “VI and the sonic squalls of “VII,” the loveliness becomes haunting.