Terje Rypdal: If Mountains Could Sing (ECM 1554)

Terje Rypdal
If Mountains Could Sing

Terje Rypdal electric guitars
Bjørn Kjellemyr basses
Audun Kleive drums
Terje Tønnesen violin
Lars Anders Tomter viola
Øystein Birkeland cello
Christian Eggen conductor
Recorded January and June 1994 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

I start this review where I might end it, by marking If Mountains Could Sing as one of Terje Rypdal’s finest achievements. Marrying the Norwegian guitarist’s penchant for magnesium fire with his comparable passion for classical textures, this record gives us the clearest intersection of his split idiomatic personality since Descendre. “The Return Of Per Ulv” kicks off a journey that is modest in length—just shy of 48 minutes—yet anything but in scope and palette. Despite the odd title (“Per Ulv” being the Norwegian moniker for Wile E. Coyote), the smoothness of its melodic line, downright edible phrasing, and fluid bass playing (courtesy of Bjørn Kjellemyr) at once evoke snow and thaw, a landscape of discovery stretching beneath steel gray skies. If ECM were to make a single Best Of album for the label as a whole, omitting this one would be tantamount to crime. Running a close second is “Dancing Without Reindeers,” which after a pizzicato burst walks the violin off the plank into an ocean schooled by drummer Audun Kleive, who chronological ECM followers would have last heard with Jon Balke on Further. Kleive, in fact, shows incredible dynamic sensitivity throughout, supplying whispers of cymbal and snare in “It’s In The Air” and “Foran Peisen” as Rypdal awakens like some giant dragon from hibernation, splashing through the puddles of “But On The Other Hand” after a cosmic storm, and anchoring “Private Eye” with depth of experience. As for the composer behind all this, he breeds lifetimes of haze against tidal strings in the arresting title track and conjures up the object of Per Ulv’s ever-unrequited chase in “One For The Roadrunner” to gut-wrenching effect. The rhythm section gets its last gasp in “Genie” before he signs this love letter on a note of “Lonesome Guitar.”

Here we have a pinpoint of dawn stretched into a canvas large enough to fit any and all listeners. We can walk and admire, lounge or run as we please through its many moods, always knowing that the music is here for us and us alone. Open this door and don’t listen back.

2 thoughts on “Terje Rypdal: If Mountains Could Sing (ECM 1554)

  1. Tyran, I read somewhere about Rypdal’s comments about this being a particularly difficult record to make – listening to it (I’ve yet to), do you have any theories on why this might be the case?

    1. Not sure about this, Craig. I wonder if he was referring only to the logistics of gathering the musicians together for recording, or whether there might also have been some deeper creative block in getting this music just right. Either way, the results are pitch perfect. You’re missing out!

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