Sky Music: Tribute to Terje Rypdal [TrackList and Artistlist follows] – Rune Grammofon RCD2194, 79:50 [8/25/17] ****:
A birthday tribute to an undervalued guitarist.
The 79-minute, nine-track Sky Music: Tribute to Terje Rypdal is a transformative album. It is transformative in two ways. The mostly Norwegian, plus some American, musicians transform the music of guitarist Terje Rypdal [pronounced TEAR-hey REEP-doll] into interpretive tunes which spotlight his compositions; and the CD will hopefully transform or convert people to become fans of Rypdal and his sizeable discography (nearly 30 albums as leader; and probably twice that as a collaborator with other artists).
Many jazz listeners outside of Norway may not be aware of Rypdal, despite five decades as an innovative and influential jazz musician. A significant portion of his releases have been issued on the ECM label, but he hasn’t often toured America. His records have not had the popular appeal of fellow Norwegians such as Jan Garbarek. Thankfully, Rypdal’s progressive jazz has been discovered by other jazz/improv stalwarts, such as Nels Cline, Bill Frisell, Henry Kaiser and former Sonic Youth member Jim O’Rourke, who all contribute to this tribute. The material also includes a large cast of Scandinavians.
Sky Music came together via a suggestion from Kaiser. “I sent a cold email to [Norwegian label] Rune Grammofon saying, ‘Hey, you’ve got a lot of [musical] children of Rypdal on your label. It would be great to do something for his birthday [Rypdal turned 70 in 2017]. I figure I can get a bunch of my pals to join the party.’” The result: pieces which range from quietly meditative to wildly explorative. Alongside Cline, Frisell and Kaiser are guitarist David Torn and cellist Erik Friedlander; and Scandinavians guitarists Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen, Raoul Björkenheim, Even Helte Hermansen, Hans Magnus Ryan and Reine Fiske; keyboardist Ståle Storløkken; bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten; and drummer Gard Nilssen. The tracks oscillate from straightforward, one-guitar solo works to fiery explosions with up to six amplified electric guitars layered together.
Sky Music commences with Frisell’s elegiac six-minute solo adaptation of “Ørnen,” which initially was offered as a trio version on Rypdal’s 1985 LP Chaser. Frisell explains, “It’s such a concise and clear composition that I didn’t feel like I had to do anything to it other than play it in my own voice. It was right up my alley. It felt like it could have been one of my own tunes.” Indeed, hearing Frisell’s folk/blues reverb and twangy playing, it’s not hard to imagine it might be from one of Frisell’s albums such as 1992’s Have a Little Faith. There’s a darkened conceptualism to the ominous “What Comes After,” a duet which features Cline (electric guitar, bass, loops) and cellist Friedlander. “What Comes After” (which is much shorter than Rypdal’s original) has a haunting and musing quality as Friedlander produces sweeping cello passages while Cline creates a multi-tiered stratum of bass, guitar and digital effects. Cline admits his favorite track is Torn’s cosmic sojourn on “Avskjed,” which comes from Rypdal’s 1980 LP Descendre. Cline reveals, “David’s playing on that just floored me. To me, that alone is worth the price of admission.” Rypdal did this tune with guitar, trumpet and drums. But here it’s Torn with only electric guitar and effects. Torn elongates “Avskjed” by an extra four minutes and pushes the tune into a thoughtfully sentient undertaking. O’Rourke takes a different path than Cline, Torn or Frisell. During “Sunrise”—which Rypdal did in 1978 with bassist Miroslav Vitous and drummer Jack DeJohnette—O’Rourke overdubs pedal steel, guitar synth, acoustic guitar and double bass and adds fellow six-stringers Thomassen and Fiske; Flaten on double bass; and drummer Nilssen. The outcome is almost nine minutes of crunching and ambient jazz fusion.
On other pieces, the Scandinavians ratchet up the volume and enter jazz-rock territory. The two-part medley, “Over Birkerot/Silver Bird Heads for the Sun” is 15 minutes of headlong guitar fusillades. Thomassen, Fiske, Kaiser, Hermansen and Björkenheim are joined by Storløkken (who has been in Rypdal’s band since the ‘90s), Flaten and Nilssen. The interplay of four electric guitars, keyboards, electric bass and drums provides a prog-rock/jazz-rock sensation. Some might think four guitars are too much, but in this case the approach supplies a wall-of-sound tonality which suits the material and is at times nearly orchestral, akin to Rhys Chatham or Glenn Branca, and at other times is like 2000s-era Sonic Youth. A similar slant suffuses the epic, 19-minute medley of “Tough Enough/Rolling Stone/Tough Enough,” which includes the same personnel plus Ryan’s guitar pyrotechnics. There’s no shortage of blues-based segments crisscrossed by experimental sections, while the music travels from beautifully inclined moments to searing slices of guitar augmentation.
For those who can’t get enough of this much-needed material, two additional, lengthy covers from the sessions—“Icing” and “Fillmore ‘76”—that were cut from the CD due to lack of space, can be found on the vinyl-only bonus LP, Sky Music: Tribute to Terje Rypdal Vol. 2. There are not many birthday presents like Sky Music. Who wants cake and candles when we have a plethora of guitars as gifts?
(Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen – electric guitar (tracks 2-3, 5-6, 9); Reine Fiske – electric guitar (tracks 2-3, 6, 9); Even Helte Hermansen, Henry Kaiser – electric guitar (tracks 2-3, 5-6), producer (Kaiser only); Raoul Björkenheim – electric guitar (tracks 2, 6); Hans Magnus Ryan – electric guitar (track 6); Ståle Storløkken – keyboards (tracks 2-3, 5-6, 8); Ingebrigt Håker Flaten – electric bass (tracks 2-3, 6), double bass (tracks 5-6, 9); Gard Nilssen – drums (tracks 2-3, 5-6, 9); Bill Frisell – electric guitar (track 1); Nels Cline – electric guitar, bass, loops (track 4); Erik Friedlander – cello (track 4); David Torn – electric guitar (track 7); Jim O’Rourke – pedal steel, guitar synth, acoustic guitar, double bass (track 9))
Over Birkerot/Silver Bird Heads for the Sun
What Comes After
Warning: Electric Guitars
Tough Enough/Rolling Stone/Tough Enough
Dream Song/Into the Wilderness/Out of This World