Ketil Bjørnstad/Terje Rypdal: Life in Leipzig (ECM 2052)

Life in Leipzig

Life in Leipzig

Ketil Bjørnstad piano
Terje Rypdal guitar
Recorded live by MDR, October 14, 2005 during the Leipziger Jazztage
Engineer: Matthias Sachers
Produced by Christian Cerny

Pianist Ketil Bjørnstad and guitarist Terje Rypdal present a parallel universe to the former’s duo recordings with cellist David Darling. Despite having performed with Rypdal more than any other musician, Bjørnstad makes here his album debut with Rypdal as a duo. Recorded live at Leipzig’s Opera House in 2005, this document finds both musicians unmasked and in prime lyric form. They are also more focused and impactful in their playing, needing only to listen to each other and to the muses guiding them to sing.

With a Bösendorfer piano at his fingertips, Bjørnstad elicits a heavier sound not heard on previous projects. “The Sea V” thus begins the set in rather dark territory for Bjørnstad, whose lyricism tends to skim the waterline. Only now it scours the ocean floor, a ghost from some ancient wreckage clawing silt and coral into musical rebirth. The pianism gradually turns into sparkle, while Rypdal’s fire remains untainted by the waves—if anything, enlivened by them. Thus the album offers its first of a handful of reprises from The Sea, including also Nos. II and IX. Both overflow with aching nostalgia, the mode of speech between the duo so heartwarming that you’d swear you’ve heard it before, even if for the first time. The latter tune treats us to some rare strumming from Rypdal for a webbed, Bill Frisell-like effect.

Other tracks link back to further group collaborations. From Bjørnstad’s Water Stories we get the utterly fragile “Flotation And Surroundings,” for which Rypdal’s subdued, mid-heavy whispers bob like petals on water, while Bjørnstad dips into some crisp, jazzy playing that takes a page out of Keith Jarrett’s vast book. This in turn elicits from Rypdal a crispness of his own as he carves out a fiercely melodic solo. “By The Fjord” comes by way of The Light. Originally written for voice, it gains even truer vocal quality by virtue of Rypdal’s introspection. His is a physiological bed made up in sheets of gold.

The guitarist’s own Skywards gets props with “The Pleasure Is Mine, I’m Sure.” There or here, it is a luscious and soaring thing, equal parts muscle and fragrant breeze. Two references to If Mountains Could Sing also put Rypdal in the spotlight. The overlapping guitars of “Le Manfred / Foran Peisen” whip up a fiery solo replete with grungy delays. This is a profound moment in the program, and a bursting foray into Rypdal’s cosmology. Fan favorite “The Return Of Per Ulv” closes out the concert in a spirited version. This has a different quality with only a piano to back it. One can almost see it relegated to the corner of a nondescript tavern, even as it blasts its message across tundra and sand. Rypdal’s soloing takes this one to new heights…and depths.

Three standalones round out the set. “Easy Now,” excerpted from Rypdal’s Melodic Warrior, receives an astonishing treatment. Rypdal navigates its chordal landscape with his eyes closed and his pick telepathically attuned to every change in wind. And a fragment of Edvard Grieg’s “Notturno,” a short piano solo with slightest shadows, shifts into a short piece by Bjørnstad entitled “Alai’s Room,” another solo so pretty that might have upset the balance had it been any longer. It offers just enough reprieve.

Even at its most sensitive, the duo maintains an epic quality to its playing. About as good as it gets from either man, and a sheer joy to have them—and no one else—together at last.

Terje Rypdal: Crime Scene (ECM 2041)

Crime Scene

Terje Rypdal
Crime Scene

Terje Rypdal electric guitar
Palle Mikkelborg trumpet
Ståle Storløkken Hammond B-3 organ
Paolo Vinaccia drums, sampling
Bergen Big Band
Olav Dale conductor
Recorded May 2009 at Nattjazz, Bergen by Norsk Rikskringkasting
Engineer: Per Ravnaas
Produced by Erling Wicklund

A line from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly plunges us into the world of Terje Rypdal’s Crime Scene: “Since we’re all going in the same direction, we might as well go together.” The fruit of a commission for the 2009 Nattjazz Festival in Bergen, Norway, the album is both a departure and a homecoming. In the former sense, it puts the Norwegian guitarist-composer’s pen to the 17-piece Bergen Big Band; latterly it deploys the rawness of his electric guitar into a mounting energy field. Joining him on the main stage are trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg, drummer Paolo Vinaccia, and Ståle Storløkken on Hammond B-3 organ, all under the baton of Olav Dale. The cinematic charge of such forces is brought home by Vinaccia’s tasteful, if unabashed, sampling of classic Hollywood westerns, gangster pictures, and films noirs.

Rypdal’s long-range suite erects a ghost town of familiar voices: Clint Eastwood’s Blondie, Marlon Brando’s Don Corleone, and even (surprisingly?) Christopher Lloyd’s Doc Brown add their own grit and wit to an appropriately gravelly undercurrent. Much has been made about the use of samples in this otherwise muscled sonic experience, but these popular sound bites provide anchorage for the music’s spiraling outcomes. In regard to those outcomes Rypdal gives us tantalizing clues by way of tongue-in-cheek track titles like “Prime Suspects,” “The Criminals,” and “Investigation.” Throughout this course in aural detection we encounter dueling tenors (both instrumental and emotional) and a trio of bass clarinets, the undercurrent of Storløkken’s Hammond stoking the furnace all the while. Mikkelborg often echoes Miles Davis (a major influence on Rypdal’s earliest fusional stirrings) as the rhythm section’s grungy airlock holds its own against a tide of brass. Through this Rypdal’s guitar cuts—not a knife but a siren, breaking the seal on a bag of forensic evidence with sheer force of thought.

As referential as Crime Scene is to its thematic bon mots, it is even more so to Rypdal’s own career and inspirations. Head-nodding bass lines recall What Comes After and Odyssey, scalding the night with their nostalgia. The ambient collage of “Parli con me?!” and hard-hitting funk of “Action” (a prime vehicle for Rypdal the acrobat) rest comfortably between composite sketches of horns. And the darker “It’s Not Been Written Yet” leads to the even darker conclusion of “Crime Solved,” the low drone of which burrows into the skull in a way not heard since Q.E.D.

Crime Scene belongs to that sparsely populated league of such montage procedurals as John Zorn’s masterful Spillane. Although it may not puff as many cigarettes as Zorn’s exemplar, it nevertheless swims in its fair share of smoke.

(To hear samples of Crime Scene, click here.)

Terje Rypdal: Vossabrygg (ECM 1984)

Vossabrygg

Terje Rypdal
Vossabrygg

Terje Rypdal guitar
Palle Mikkelborg trumpet, synthesizer
Bugge Wesseltoft electric piano, synthesizer
Ståle Storløkken Hammond organ, electric piano, synthesizer
Marius Rypdal electronics, samples, turntables
Bjørn Kjellemyr electric and acoustic bass
Jon Christensen drums
Paolo Vinaccia percussion
Recorded live April 12, 2003 at Vossa Jazz Festival, Norway
Engineer: Per Ravnaas, NRK
Executive producer: Manfred Eicher

Terje Rypdal’s Opus 84 is an interdisciplinary suite of epic proportions. The fruit of a 2003 commission by Norway’s Vossa Jazz Festival, this live recording finds the Norwegian guitarist-composer fronting an all-star cast that brings trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg, bassist Bjørn Kjellemyr, drummers Jon Christensen and Paolo Vinaccia, and keyboardists Bugge Wesseltoft and Ståle Storløkken to the fold. Truly special, though, is the ECM debut of Marius Rypdal, who provides digital connective tissue at key points along the way and mines his father’s own discography—particularly Ineo, op. 29 and the 5th Symphony, op. 50—to nu-jazz levels. His veritable hand basket of samples, breakbeats, and atmospheres spreads a picnic that tastes much like Khmer (and, for the obscurists out there, also like Japanese guitarist Sugizo’s 1997 drum ‘n’ bass solo effort, Truth?). His computational acumen is clearest on the three movements he co-writes with Terje: “Hidden Chapter,” “Incognito Traveller,” and “Jungeltelegrafen.” Of these, the first two wield classically cinematic brushes, moving waves of ambience and computerized utterances across swaths of bedrock. Samples range from violin and chorus to a warped phone call pulsing through city streets under cover of night. Gesture for gesture, Mikkelborg matches Rypdal’s every cry, breaking out in the final piece toward full-on escape.

The “brygg” of the album’s title means “Brew,” a forthright reference to Miles Davis’s seminal electric-era Bitches Brew. The introductory, 18-and-a-half-minute “Ghostdancing” mixes a likeminded concoction of heat-distorted drums and organ over a rocking bass line. The thinking is bold, dynamic, and recalls “Rolling Stone,” the once-lost track off Rypdal’s own Odyssey. In this sea of reverberation, Mikkelborg’s vessel stretches the broadest sail.

If Rypdal and friends seem to be digging into the past, it’s only because they are messengers from the future. Be it encoded in the double-headed “Waltz For Broken Hearts / Makes You Wonder” or the halting “That’s More Like It,” his resonant stream is palpable whether his plectrum touches string or not. In this context, Mikkelborg, ever the empathic performer, plays the melodic prince to Rypdal’s atmospheric king. The guitarist holds his authority by no small feat of restraint, as he does further in the post-meridiem groove of “You’re Making It Personal.” Bass and drums haul a heavy cart of night while trumpet cuts shooting star scars over the cityscape. This leaves only “A Quiet Word,” actually a rather dense wave of dreams, to build the afterglow, particle by particle.

This is how it’s done.

Terje Rypdal: Lux Aeterna (ECM 1818)

Lux Aeterna

Terje Rypdal
Lux Aeterna

Terje Rypdal guitar
Palle Mikkelborg trumpet
Iver Kleive church organ
Åshild Stubø Gundersen soprano
Bergen Chamber Ensemble
Kjell Seim conductor
Recorded live July 19, 2000 at Molde Domkirke
Recording engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Album produced by Manfred Eicher

Regarding the modern Lux Aeterna (Eternal light), György Ligeti’s setting of the Latin text comes foremost to mind. Made famous by way of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (incidentally, my first exposure to Ligeti’s music), it did, of course, through that association take on cosmic aspects that may or may not have been originally intended. Although Ligeti was an earlier influence on Norwegian guitarist-composer Terje Rypdal’s take recorded here, the latter’s mapping processes are as distant as the faintest star. It is a setting in the truest sense, nesting one vocal movement among four others in a large-scale work that defies idiomatic description.

The first movement, subtitled “Luminous Galaxy,” is a serenade to the universe. Rypdal’s epic arranging skills and attention to color clear the sky of all pollution and distraction, leaving a naked belt, a cleft in the chin of darkness. The strings of the Bergen Chamber Ensemble (under the direction of Kjell Seim) reach heavenward even as their intentions burrow into the soil, spreading fingers and toes in pursuit of a shared, nameless goal. A celeste adds handfuls of stardust to the palette. Palle Mikkelborg then takes to the stage, almost startling in his surety. Warmed by the horse-haired fire around him, his echo-processed trumpet describes a vaulted architecture, of which windows and doors are galaxies unto themselves. The dialogic relationship established here at the outset encompasses so much space that the bulk of existence seems within reach. Swaying key changes mimic the flapping of a dress in the wind, the swirl of Jupiter’s eye, the quiet circumscription of Saturn’s rings. Through it all, the light of many suns coalesces in planetary alignment. And then, another entrance as a church organ (played by Iver Kleive) throws all satellite transmissions into paroxysms of static with its volcanic breath. It looses a subterranean call, rumbling more than singing, and bows in a gesture so luminous that only the pitch of night can contain it.

Rypdal explains the meaning behind “Fjelldåpen” (Baptized by the mountains): “For some reason now forgotten I wanted to teach my parents a lesson. I was 9 or 10 years old. I found a track used by sheep—very steep—and climbed the mountain fast. Once on top for a while I felt a very special connection to the mountain (and still do). At first I felt quite brave, but then a forceful wind started to scare me. And this feeling I’ve tried to capture in the second movement—you can hear when the wind is coming.” Rypdal goes on to say that he came down from the mountain to find that nobody had missed him: the world had gone on turning without him. The profundity of this realization at such a young age—the knowledge that one may be nothing more than an arbitrary arrangement of dark matter—is captured achingly in the composer’s lonely electric guitar as it leaves a trail of fuel to the mountain’s apex. Only when he surveys his achievement does he hold his axe to the sunset and light that trail with its fire. And as the world goes up in flames and licks the sky with its profound indifference, Rypdal shreds, balancing his trademark melodic lasers with the mercury of their fragmentation. His feet lift from the peak and float him beyond the clouds.

Hence the third movement, “Escalator.” Here the strings flow unlike earthly water, moving from land to mountain: a return to origins. Mikkelborg makes a subtle return. Spilling from a caesura in the very firmament, the trumpet liquefies and returns to a solid state in the musician’s hands, already itching with muscle memory to coat the landscape with elliptical grammar.

The fourth movement, “Toccata,” is an interlude for organ that twists the frame until all beings expire as they are, leaving only ruins behind. There, beneath tattered banners and dilapidated thrones, before the corpses of servants and skeleton-inhabited armor, a wordless sermon emerges with the force of a jumping spider. Distant flutes sing the praises of an idyllic age, when maidens and warriors needed no excuse to weep for love. This luxury of beauty plays out tearfully in the windowless corridor of this most titanic of instruments.

The titular movement ends the work with the voice of soprano Åshild Stubø Gundersen, introduced in points of contact and unison with electric guitar. Gundersen is captivating in her fallible tone, whereby she reveals the imperfections that make outer space such a ageless vessel for fascination. The difference between media blurs over time, so that Rypdal and the singer emote on almost exactly the same wavelength. The relationship between throat and pick feels entirely organic, less a shift between than a transfusion from one sonic entity to another. The organ sustains a drone and drops single notes like the signal tones in Close Encounters of the Third Kind—only here, the answer comes from within, from the trumpet (the messenger of peace), from the very rhythms of the heart by which all things cohere and expand. Descending chords—a recurring motif in Rypdal’s classically minded outings—leave their footprints clearly in mind. Thus spent, the densest matter spins into diffusion, leaving only the core theme intact, billiard-struck toward a black hole, silent and waiting.

Terje Rypdal: Melodic Warrior (ECM 2006)

2006 X

Terje Rypdal
Melodic Warrior

Terje Rypdal guitar
The Hilliard Ensemble
Bruckner Orchester Linz
Dennis Russell Davies conductor
Wroclaw Philharmonic Orchestra
Sebastian Perloswski conductor
Melodic Warrior recorded December 2003 at Brucknerhaus, Linz (ORF)
Recording engineer: Alice Ertlbauer-Camerer
Engineer: Alois Hummer
And The Sky Was Coloured… recorded November 2009 at Jazztopad Festival, Wrocław
Recording engineer: Maurycy Kin
Mixed at Rainbow Studio, Oslo by Jan Erik Kongshaug, Manfred Eicher and Terje Rypdal
Album produced by Manfred Eicher

…from the house made of mirage…
…the rainbow rose up with me…
…the rainbow returned with me…
…to the entrance of my house…
…from the house made of mirage…
–excerpted from a Navajo Night Chant

How does one review an album for which one has also written liner notes? This is the challenge I set before myself in the instance of Terje Rypdal’s astonishing Melodic Warrior. Pairing the gargantuan title piece with a younger sibling, it reveals yet another facet of the Norwegian guitarist’s compositional profile, one that has given us such wondrous reflective surfaces as Undisonus and his Lux Aeterna. Where those two works examined sonic temperatures across relatively expansive climates, here the lens cracks in an implosion of voices.

Of those voices we get four prominent stewards in the Hilliard Ensemble, who also commissioned Melodic Warrior from the very ether. Their singing burgeons in a selection of Native American poetry chosen by Rypdal, along with a sprinkle of original words. To the touch-and-go listener it may seem an outlying choice for the Hilliards, unless of course one considers their likeminded reworking of Quechua and Passamaquoddy sources with saxophonist Jan Garbarek on, respectively, Mnemosyne and Officium Novum—in which case the fit could hardly be more intuitive. These are poetries rooted in that which roots us, pouring mercury into the primacy of oral over written expression: the lived knowledge that eternal regeneration is impossible without the fleeting rain.

The instrumental makeup alone chains this magnum opus to an immovable classical altar, surrounding the Hilliards with a full orchestra under the ever-erudite guidance of Dennis Russell Davies. It further bears the scars of Rypdal’s many-hued pools of influence, for his electric guitar bleeds through its movements like fire through lit steel wool, cupping a prog-rock relic or two in its satchel. In light of this, Melodic Warrior would seem to bring together many of his earlier threads into unified fruition—from his supergroup The Dream and on through the defining ECM years (Odyssey, Chasers, and especially Skywards) to the large-scale compositions mentioned above. The end effect is a snake coiled and poised to strike. Yet rather than deploy its secrets as weaponry (the melodic warrior sustains injury in place of others), it holds venom in mind and makes it palatable to the tongue and to the ear. Rypdal’s baying leads are unmistakable in this regard, stringing us as they do along a necklace of vocal cells, each writ large within the itinerant body. That we can at last experience the journey of that body on disc (prior to release, it had been maturing in ECM’s vaults for nearly a decade) is a gift for the soul.

Rypdal’s Opus 79 finds company in his Opus 97, And The Sky Was Coloured With Waterfalls And Angels. Whether coincidental or not, the numerical reversal suggests a kinship. And indeed, despite its wordless topography, the second piece would seem to drink from the same ocean, albeit on a different coast. Fronting now another orchestra and without the company of (human) voices, Rypdal paints bruises of a different kind: these the bursting flowers of a fireworks display. Although not overtly programmatic, those eruptions do materialize in periodic squints, carrying us out on a breath of awe.

It was an honor and a dream come true to contribute liner notes to this release. In solidarity with listeners (and because digital downloads deprive us of the pleasure of holding a booklet), I offer said notes in full below, with ECM’s kind permission.

… . …

Contrapunctus naturalis: Rypdal’s Warriors and Angels

The Chippewa tell a form of picture-story in which silence takes the form of two lines, close but never touching. As the asymptote of all existence, they do more than represent. They enshrine. Surrounding them is a need for self-questioning, for acknowledging the power of the beating drum.

River, nature, vision: these are the tools of the warrior whose flesh stands firm against the tide. Like the stag hanging from a tree—last touched by chipped stone and hunter’s eye, now drained by gravity and sun’s transit—it has an illusory stillness. Somewhere, in another time, the warrior’s legs still run. Terje Rypdal’s warrior is consequently melodic. Protagonist of his magnum opus, he activates a landscape by contact of lyric and pen. Its composer is a river; the voices of the Hilliard Ensemble its fauna; the writhing Bruckner Orchestra Linz, under the baton of Dennis Russell Davies, its flora. Davies adds depth through an abiding passion for living works. He gives voice to the margins, here doubly so, guiding Rypdal’s assembly through a 45-minute epic drawn from Chippewa, Navajo, Pima, and Papago sources. The words came to Rypdal by way of stage director and musician Carl Jørgen Kiønig, who lent him a book of Native American poetry. “Its closeness to nature mirrored my own,” he says, and thus the seeds were planted. Since its 2003 Austrian premiere, this Hilliard commission has taken on a soul that consolidates Rypdal’s many paths.

From his early ECM leader dates onward, including the self-titled 1971 debut and 1974’s Whenever I Seem To Be Far Away, Rypdal has had a hand in multiple idioms. He grew up in a classical home (his father was also a composer) and trained formatively in that sphere before taking to the guitar in his teens. If we can paint anything with these biographical colors, it is not the portrait of a fusion artist, but rather one who walks along dissolving borders. Whether in the chamber music aesthetics of Q.E.D. or the wayfaring 5th Symphony, in the droning lyricism of Undisonus or the flowing textures of Lux Aeterna, through it all persists a consistency of vision.

And what of Melodic Warrior? “The title came to me almost as a vision,” Rypdal recalls. “It felt as if I had planned something like this all my life.” Given the strength of this conviction, one might expect a ruder “Awakening” than what transpires in the eponymous prologue. The first of nine movements, it opens its eyes in high-pitched stasis, an abyss where the fray of human awareness hums above the earth’s surface. The ensuing plunge is cinematic to the core, traveling from cosmos to land, from breath to heart. In it we find the glitter of coastal waters, a veritable Bering land bridge rooted in sea floor and spreading its fingers toward wounded sky. To tread here is to embrace daylight, to feast on it, as the crow takes to carrion.

Storm, leaf, soil: the constellations Rypdal’s electric guitar lives by, echoes from a mythic past, garments donned by our four unmistakable voices when twilight falls around them. Their welcome blessing reveals an organic body, splitting and fusing like water’s flow. As one, they fly. In isolation, they soar. During solos their spirits thread disparate needles, sometimes flirting with call and response, but always with unity in sight. A storm is nothing without its droplets.

Rypdal remains the omniscient lurker, resurfacing across the suspenseful pages of “The Secret File” with script aflame. He envisions this dramatic intermezzo—having used it before in a hard-rock context—as a nod to Western film soundtracks, thereby bearing relevance on the contradictions of the Native American theme. Not until “Song Of Thunder” does he ride lightning into the roiling ash. He weaves stealthily, finding in the curve of a whale’s back, in the sweep of a honeybee’s pollen comb, the natural counterpoint that haunts his oeuvre at large.

The strings of Linz mark the face of this music with laugh lines. Profound shifts in light reveal rivulets and isles of possibility. In “Magician Song” countertenor David James evokes a leaf on that water, the tremble of the branch before its descent, the seed from which that tree burgeoned. Ancestors become stories, backgrounds become foregrounds, as they would in dreams, and close the circle by way of opening another in the light of a morning star.

The flair of Melodic Warrior brings to mind another ECM-represented composer, Erkki-Sven Tüür, whose background in progressive rock buoys a mind meld of fortitude and color. And if we can draw further lines of contact to the work of such 20th-century stalwarts as Górecki, Ligeti, Penderecki, and even a hint of Glass, it is only because Rypdal has mixed and baked his clay from the mineral-rich soil of deep listening.

All of this comprises a challenge to purveyors of modern music who rest on atmospheric crutches in lieu of compelling linear themes. Rypdal points to early conversations in this regard with label mate Ketil Bjørnstad: “We used to talk about how melody in contemporary music was looked down upon. I knew right from the start of my composing that I had to bring back melody…and beauty in general.” His forte embodies the uphill battle of this realization, beholds the world as new parents behold themselves, at once without and within. The polarity makes sense, for what is the guitar if not a bringer of visceral melody? It is a fortuitous compositional tool in the hands of one who wields it properly.

Sky, journey, reflection: the shaman’s initiations. As technician of the sacred, the shaman dismantles mortal designs. He abstains from taste of dust for that of haze. He casts bones through skin, passes mind through matter, and returns with timely prophecy. He visualizes decay, the withering of boundaries. He casts one eye down and the other up. Thus undone, the earth overflows.

And The Sky Was Coloured With Waterfalls And Angels is the receptacle of that excess. More than a landscape, it is another link in the chain of being. The live recording presented here opens a curtain on Wrocław, Poland, where the 2009 Jazztopad Festival (artistic director: Piotr Turkiewicz) is about to set forth on this purely instrumental journey. It is under these auspices that, with Sebastian Perłowski leading the Wrocław Philharmonic and Rypdal poised before six foreshortening strings, the music bubbles with the freshness of its premiere.

The piece was inspired by the 2008 International Fireworks Festival in Cannes and assumes a denser structure than its sibling. It brings to evidence the din of human commerce, technology, and construction, even as it links those rosettes high beyond mundane concern. The violin scratches an itch it cannot quell, unfurls banners of melancholia between explosions. Even a surge of harp brings little hope or heavenliness. It is caked with time, unshaken. Somehow all of this finds peace, such that the sky becomes the cell of another body, and that body the cell of another.

Mirror, vessel, silence: the totems of a composer seeking nectar. Once found, it drips from waterskin, emphasizes imperfections. This music holds a mirror to land, turning every arch into a ring. The counterpoint is more than natural. It is the all-encompassing sight of things created and destroyed. Every instrument sheds a skin.

The horns in particular take on a quasi-Wagnerian role throughout the program, signaling themes and atmospheres as they become intertwined with locations and avatars. At one moment the song of bestial life, swaying the next in bowed waters, they cast crimson lines of intention into a darkening sea. This is the trick of Rypdal’s notecraft: he digs into continental influences with an archaeologist’s eye, persevering where many have quit until that single common vessel is revealed, petrified yet singing.

Tyran Grillo

Silence

Melodic Warrior liner notes

It is my honor to announce that Terje Rypdal’s Melodic Warrior, a masterpiece commissioned by the Hilliard Ensemble and featuring Rypdal on electric guitar fronting two separate orchestras, will include liner notes by yours truly. You can pre-order your copy from Amazon here, or from your vendor of choice. In the meantime, I encourage you to check out a sample. Now the question is: How am I going to write a review for this one?

2006 X

Terje Rypdal: Odyssey – In Studio & In Concert (ECM 2136-38)

Terje Rypdal
Odyssey – In Studio & In Concert

Terje Rypdal electric guitar, synthesizer, soprano saxophone
Torbjørn Sunde trombone
Brynjulf Blix organ
Sveinung Hovensjø bass guitar
Svein Christiansen drums
Swedish Radio Jazz Group

Odyssey (ECM 1067/68)
Recorded August 1975 at Arne Bendiksen Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

My first encounter with Odyssey came in the late nineties. Still young in my ECM explorations and having just barely crossed over into Jan Garbarek’s Visible World, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the journey that label stalwart Terje Rypdal (a name as yet unfamiliar) had just taken me on. The CD fell out of rotation quickly, I’m afraid to say, buried under the pile of New Series albums then dominating my attention. Years later, and well into my own listening odyssey, I returned to it, only to find that it had never left me.

Rypdal has, of course, been under the ECM umbrella since almost the very beginning. The release of his self-titled debut in 1971 sparked an intrepid flame that continues to burn through a wide spectrum of colors. As the informative liner notes from John Kelman tell us, the band that was to define Odyssey was the product of circumstance. Drawing on a pool of musicians from previous sessions, including bassist Sveinung Hovensjø from 1973’s What Comes After, he also welcomed unexpected talents into the fold, such as drummer Svein Christiansen and organist Brynjulf Blix, the latter of whom contributed heavily to the album’s well-aged luster. The resulting sound proved a defining one, as inescapable bass lines danced touch-and-go with the guitarist’s unbridled narratives. We hear this most in the solid underpinnings of “Midnite.” Hovensjø lays down the rules for all of its 17 minutes, leaving Rypdal to stretch them to the pathos of his progressive solitude. Those carefully pedaled strings and alluring soprano sax (played by Rypdal himself) careen through its nocturnal billows with humble ferocity as Torbjørn Sunde brings comparable light to the sky with muted trombone. If the plangent cry of “Darkness Falls” that precedes this and opens the album tells us anything, it is that here is a terrain of emotional clarity and immediacy. The magic of this rendering lies in its continual flux, in its refusal to settle into one topographic pattern. The following “Adagio” plunges the album to new depths, even as it raises the bar from which it hangs. Solina strings owe their thickness to the charcoal yet discernible picture into which Rypdal’s guitar spills ether: a shout of autonomy in its coolest disguise. “Better Off Without You” walks in organic circles, occasionally poking its head above the watery depths of Blix’s ostinato haze, keeping an eye trained “Over Birkerot.” In this punchier setting, Rypdal keeps his feet planted amid a chain of horn blasts (think Hans Zimmer’s Inception soundtrack on a smaller scale). His cathartic rock-out midway through is a chance to let hair fly and pulls open the ribbon of “Fare Well.” Along with the final “Ballade,” it finds the musicians in languid suspension, crossing vibraphone-like paths toward elegiac destinations. It may feel blinding, but we can be sure this light comes to us by the force of a distant hope.

Rypdal has an incisive way of building anticipation, of dropping his solos at the most carefully thought-out points, his guitar an endless book of codas. Like the photo that graces its cover, Odyssey captures the life of a nomadic musician in candid monochrome. And while the album had been reissued on CD prior to this New & Old Masters set, the 24-minute “Rolling Stone” sadly did not survive that first digital makeover. An organ-infused underwater symphony of legendary status, its primal bass line and whammy bar ornaments flow like a meeting between Bill Laswell and Robin Guthrie before bringing on the album’s most rock-oriented developments. It also charts Rypdal in a pivotal moment of self-discovery where his tone began to coalesce into the sound for which he has come to be known. What a treasure to have in restored form.

As if this weren’t already enough to celebrate, ECM has gone above and beyond with another gem from the archives:

Unfinished Highballs
Recorded June 1976 by Swedish Radio, Estrad, Södertälje
Recording producer: Bosse Broberg
Engineer: Ola Kejving

This commissioned radio performance from 1976 features a streamlined Odyssey band (sans Sunde) fronting the 15-piece Swedish Radio Jazz Group. At under four minutes, the title track might blow by like the foreword to a novel were it not for its sheer theatricality. Rypdal’s vision cuts the darkness with a film projector’s eye, and blends into the Matterhorn bass of “The Golden Eye.” Icy synths challenge the thaw of Blix’s electric piano as fiery horns uncurl their tongues from the firmament and lick the snowcapped mountains of an unbridled story. Rypdal lifts this image skyward on waxen wings, which, unlike those of Icarus, are impervious to the light on which they feed. Next on this spacy ride is “Scarlet Mistress.” At once sharpened by muted trumpet and rounded by swinging textures, it gives wide relief to Rypdal’s laser etchings. One feels in its background the kick of eras when music’s enervation thrived in proportion to the harshness of its sociopolitical climate, so that the clubs of the 20s and 30s resurrect themselves and dance their ghostly dance. The soprano returns for a spell, for all a moonbeam peeking out from the clouds into a well of chords that pull us into “Dawn.” Melodies unwind, each a snake wrapped around the wrist of a god who whips it free into the glittering sky. Some enticing bass work dances amid Rypdal’s shimmers of water-harp enchantment, lowering us on a fishhook into the depths of “Dine And Dance To The Music Of The Waves,” in which sitar-like sounds pave a Nazca runway for the soprano’s grand coverage of worldly joy. Christiansen is the contortionist’s backbone of “Talking Back.” Sporting also high-flying reeds from Lennart Åberg and Ulf Andersson, its attunement is downright symbiotic. A real highlight. And speaking of which, where else to end but in “Bright Lights – Big City,” closing out the set on a signature dronescape.

With such a full sense of architecture to explore, it’s no wonder this newly unearthed companion has held its shape. In elevating the big band to a level of orchestral aliveness so rarely achieved, Rypdal has left a mark that is not only indelible, but also inimitable. With a nostalgic sound that distinguishes so much of ECM’s output from the decade, Odyssey – In Studio & In Concert shares the pedestal with Keith Jarrett’s Sleeper as release event of the year.

Terje Rypdal: Skywards (ECM 1608)

Terje Rypdal
Skywards

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.

Terje Rypdal: Double Concerto / 5th Symphony (ECM 1567)

Terje Rypdal
Double Concerto / 5th Symphony

Terje Rypdal guitar
Ronni Le Tekro guitar
Riga Festival Orchestra
Normunds Šnē
 conductor
Recorded June 1998, Riga, and August 1998, Nyhagen
Engineers: Audun Strype and Dag Stokke
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Ever the slippery idiomatic eel, Terje Rypdal holds his own as composer in two massive works, the Double Concerto for two electric guitars and symphony orchestra and the 5th Symphony, totaling eight movements of classical brilliance. While the influences are as maverick as he, the overall consistency of texture is refreshing and clean. Rypdal and fellow guitarist Ronni Le Tekro build on a mutual appreciation as soloists for the opus 58 Concerto. Erkki-Sven Tüür fans will find much to admire here in the adroit incorporation of percussion and brass against a Baroque-flavored counterpoint in the leading motives of the first movement. After these pyrotechnic swoops, the meditations of the second movement are a welcome reprieve. Yet the torch still burns all the way to the fourth, braving a storm of Glenn Branca proportion toward cinematic resolution.

If the concerto is about closure, then Rypdal’s opus 50 is about openness. The 5th Symphony reveals a detailed aesthetic that builds with molecules of descriptive energy, as what at one moment may evoke the sway of windblown trees may trade places the next with a waterfall’s shimmering veil. From this cascade emerges a faunal English horn, poking its head through the foliage like a curious deer whose need for caution pales in the light of the comfort that surrounds it. From a dissonant rumbling from below, a wayfaring piano anoints us with slumber, pulling threads of pathos to harp-gilded crests and falls. A thorough and pervasive atmosphere wins out, hurling us into oblivion.

Rypdal swings from innocence to fortitude at the flick of a pick (or pen, as the case might be). Like the oceans of Solaris, his music is ethereal even as it feeds on our darkest fears.