Terje Rypdal: Skywards (ECM 1608)

Terje Rypdal

Terje Rypdal electric guitar
Palle Mikkelborg trumpet
Terje Tønnesen violin
David Darling cello
Christian Eggen piano, keyboards
Paolo Vinaccia drums, percussion
Jon Christensen drums
Recorded February 1996 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

If Terje Rypdal’s instrument is his axe, then he has ground it to an edge like no other, and perhaps few places so finely as on Skywards. The result of a Lillehammer Festival commission, his jeweled exposition is an aural thank you note to the unquantifiable contributions that ECM has made, via producer Manfred Eicher, to the Scandinavian soundscape. One could hardly script a more fitting lineup for such a task. Joining the Norwegian renaissance man are trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg, cellist David Darling, drummers Paolo Vinaccia and Jon Christensen, violinist Terje Tønnesen (heard recently on If Mountains Could Sing, and Christian Eggen on keyboards (familiar to Rypdal followers as conductor for Undisonus and Q.E.D.). Of these, it is Mikkelborg who leads the way most economically, as in the central “Out Of This World,” transplanted from the Lillehammer stage and redressed here in Oslo’s Rainbow Stuio. The sincerity of his gambit bleeds into Rypdal’s own blazing chess moves against a backcloth of shifting voices. The guitarist writhes as if singing, even as Eggen exposes ancient shadows whose dance has remained unchanged since its inception. Before kissing this quasar, however, we are treated to the earth-friendly title piece. Its anthemic strains carry the torch of “The Return Of Per Ulv,” of which it is a shining reflection, and unwraps also the album’s hallmarks: drums like speech, synths like water, and glorious leads. “Into The Wilderness” bears the frostbite of the Norwegian film, Kjærlighetens kjøtere (Zero Kelvin), for which he composed it. Yet it brings warm thoughts, wrapped in savannah dreams, the creaking of bones, and subterranean currents. In this cinematic enclave we encounter a host of idioms, all tied by a quiet splendor that burgeons even as it fades. David Lynch-like atmospheres mix freely with turpentine and darkening reality, where the sunlight now becomes a ghost wished for to be gone. “The Pleasure Is Mine, I’m Sure” is another cinematic bow to the legions of our shared past. In its wake treads the ostinato of “It’s Not Over Until The Fat Lady Sings!” skirted by drums and overlaid by Rypdal’s collected, fierce lyricism. The set ends with “Shining” and “Remember To Remember,” each a reworking of an earlier motive, mineral from the soil, trembling with romantic charge.

A perfect marriage of concept, cover, and content, Skywards guides the way with light while leaving footprints of shadow. A fantastically beautiful record.

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