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Terje Rypdal: When Fusion was Fun

By BILL ROYSTON // New Terje Rypdal release examined plus several other new ECM releases by the founder of the Portland Jazz Festival and now Jazz éminence grise.

Electric guitar/synth wizard Terje Rypdal recently released "Conspiracy"--which is the name of the album, the title track, and the band--as his first studio recording of new music in over two decades. The band is comprised of heavy electronic keyboards (Stale Storlokken), power bass (Endre Hareide Hallre), and wall-of-sound percussion (Pal Thowsen) supporting Rypdal's master shredding. The title track is vintage Rypdal with soaring improvisations and ear-shattering rock grooves, but the rest of the album, "Conspiracy," fails as a meandering series of smooth, new age tone poems and soundscapes.

Terje Rypdal is admittedly an acquired taste. One of the original heroes of the Norwegian jazz movement, he was part of the original ECM, groundbreaking quartet with Jan Garbarek on the Albert Ayler inspired  "Afric Pepperbird" and "SART" releases dating back to the late 60's. Later, he was part of another adventurous quartet with pianist Ketil Bjornstad, cellist/bassist David Darling, and drummer Jon Christensen that produced the memorable, and surprisingly melodic, trilogy of "Water Stories," "Sea I," and "Sea II." In turn, this created a live duo recording, "Live in Leipzig," of classically influenced grand piano and scorching guitar. "Live in Leipzig" is inarguably one of the stunning achievements in the evolution of contemporary European jazz!

In between these collaborative forays, Rypdal has amassed an impressively eclectic discography:  (kinda) straightahead trio excellence with Miroslav Vitous (bass) and Jack DeJohnette (drums); longstanding gigs with his band Odyssey thoughout the 70's and 80's; jazz fusion gems ("Waves," "Skywards," "Vossabrygg"); rock experiments ("Descendre," "If Mountains Could Sing, " "Whenever I Seem To Be Far Away"); electric chamber music duo with David Darling ("Eos");
classically composed music complete with symphony charts ("Lux Aeterna," "Double Concerto/Fifth Symphony," "Q.E.D.").

"Conspiracy" falls short to each of the above, and while the legacy and musical vision of Terje Rypdal needs to be recognized and celebrated, especially in North America, this modest  37-minute offering will only serve as an afterthought within a life of successful musical experimentation. Hopefully, there is more new music ahead!

This was the most prominent, and certainly the most anticipated, of the four new, all European- based ECM releases for early fall...

The real surprises here are two nuggets from France, especially a stellar first effort as a leader by tenor saxophonist Mathieu Bordenave. With "La traversee" ("The Crossing"), Bordenave has formed an exciting new trio to carrry out his vision of fusing delicate jazz improvisation with chamber music. This is vintage ECM Sound and overall an extraordinary recording!

The international trio includes exciting German pianist Florian Weber and veteran Swiss bassist Patrice Moret. Weber is one of the bright, young stars on the European jazz scene. His sparkling piano blended with Marcus Stockhausen's trumpet on a duo album, "Alba," which was one of the finest albums of 2018. In 2019, Weber released his first album as a group leader with "Brilliant Waters," receiving strong critical acclaim. Moret is best known as bassist with superb pianist and fellow Swiss countryman Colin Vallon ("Rruga," "La Vent," and "Danse").

But this is clearly Bordenave's concept. He obviously has classical training with his fully rounded saxophone and exquisite sense for composition, but the impeccably subdued improvisations were developed later at night in Parisian jazz clubs. This is simply beautiful music that will someday be cherished as an ECM classic!

Bassist extraordinaire, Michel Benita is a veteran of the contemporary French jazz scene with his longstanding group, Ethics, debuting on ECM with "River Silver" (2015), and now a new recording curiously titled "Looking at Sound." Although there is only one personnel change on the new release, Benita decided against continuing the Ethics moniker in favor of simply Michel Benita Quartet. The suspicion is that the name change is more about the new music than a change of keyboard players!

While "River Silver" is accessible contemporary jazz, showcasing Benita's rich, warm bass lines most reminiscent of Dave Holland's drive and touch, "Looking at Sound" is far more complex. But in the end most rewarding. The new album literally dissects Sound with judiciously placed electronics. Benita punctuated his compositions with synthesized droning sounds from his laptop; Phillippe Garcia integrates real time sampling into his drumming; Mattheiu Michel plays exceptional flugelhorn with discreet electronic effects; and most significantly, Josef Dumoulin processes his Rhodes keyboards via numerous effects boxes, pedals, and reverb. The result is a worthy Sound Exploration, as Ornette might say, creating a series of musical hues and prisms that are truly enchanting while challenging.

By my count, ECM has produced well over one hundred solo piano albums (including over twenty solo improvisations by Keith Jarrett). It's what they do! And with pristine engineering, they do it best!

The newest solo piano entrant is young, Polish pianist Dominik Wania. A member of the adventurous Maciej Obara quartet ("Unloved" and "Three Crowns"), Wania's prowess was obvious, and a solo challenge was inevitable... Hence "Lonely Shadows" The album is all improvisation with no preconceptions or ideas, except for the avoidance of traditional melody or harmonies. This is pure Risk Music, yet with a deep classical background Wania somehow maintains a sense of beauty within his structural explorations. This is an intense young artist emerging from a serious Polish jazz culture who needs to be nourished and further challenged both with future group and solo projects. A master in the making, keep your ears open to Dominik Wania.

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mark lundgren

smart review !


"a meandering series of smooth, new age tone poems and soundscapes" is a review best suited to David Gilmour's Wandering River, not this - I enjoyed it and w/o this intro would never have heard of Mr. Rypdal.

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