Dr. Bekken – Stone Blues, Vol. 3 and Dark and Somber
CD 1: 6 Songs, 29 Minutes; CD 2: 6 Songs, 38 Minutes
Styles: Piano Blues, Instrumental Blues, Solo Albums, All Original Songs
Here is some terrific news, lovers of piano blues! This time I have a two-fer from Norway’s Dr. Tor Einar Bekken. One of the most amazing things about both of these (short) albums is how soon they’ve arrived after 2020’s In Fonk We Trust, also reviewed by this magazine. Many authors would kill for such a turnaround time. Then again, when you have all the time in the world due to COVID lockdown and quarantine, inspiration has tons of room to strike.
When the Doctor found himself inspired, he laid down six terrific instrumental blues tracks, compiling them under the title of Stone Blues, Vol. 3. This year, he composed Dark and Somber, another selection of six scintillating songs. Even though his style lacks edge and visceral, down-and-dirty riffs, don’t mistake that for a lack of piano blues mastery. Consider it a sign of Tor’s veteran musicianship that he knows himself and his music well enough not to pound the ivories instead of tickle them. Leave the lightning to Ben Levin. Dr. Bekken is a gentle summer rain.
The reason I haven’t put his title in quotes is that “Doctor” is his official designation, not only a blues nickname. He has completed his dissertation on Piano Tradition in New Orleans, as well as holding the title of Assistant Professor of Music at Sør-Trøndelag University College. As if those academic credentials weren’t impressive enough, he has also earned a Master’s degree in English Literature, with a specialization in African-American poetry.
Highlights of Stone Blues, Vol. 3 include “The Lowdown,” the title track, and the introspective, reflective jazz closer “Thomas Lauritzen.” All of them demonstrate why it’s often harder to play instrumentals than tunes with lyrics. Lyrics provide refrains, choruses and other verbal cues that tell you exactly where you are in the song, and what elements to play at what times: an intro here, a blistering solo there, phrasing and emphasis on certain words in the verses. With instrumental blues, all of that is absent. You have to rely on musical memory like muscle memory. How does Dr. Bekken’s stack up? Let me tell you: he’s a graceful athlete on piano.
Dark and Somber, the longer offering at thirty-eight minutes, is even more of a challenge. What will you recall more in terms of musical memory: a three-minute song or a seven-minute song? Nevertheless, Tor becomes Thor during the course of this CD. A contradiction? Not at all. Hammers are not only weapons but tools, meant to ring for a purpose. Although the length and style of the six tracks here will inspire one’s mind to wander, nary a single note is wasted or misplaced. That’s the difference between him and less-seasoned, less-careful piano blues artists. In my opinion, the title track and “Black Boy Shine” demonstrate this succinct quality most clearly.
Let Dr. Bekken cure what ails you with his melodic, complex, and soothingly-stormy blues!