Guitarists Join Forces to Salute Norwegian Jazz Guitarist Terje Rypdal

October 12th, 2017

Nels Cline, meanwhile, chose to tackle the title track of his favorite Rypdal album, What Comes After, also released in 1974. Duetting with cellist Erik Friedlander, he excels with both an atmospheric take on the main theme and a rip-snorting solo. “I didn’t want to do that tune on my own,” Cline says, “because the conversation Terje has on the original album with Barre Phillips on arco bass is especially stunning to me. I hear some John McLaughlin influence in the writing, but what I love most is the freedom of it, particularly the chromatic aspect of his playing.”

Cline first heard Rypdal as a soloist on saxophonist Jan Garbarek’s Afric Pepperbird album in the early Seventies when a high school friend played it to him over the phone. (“I was immediately intrigued by this crazy, screechy guitar stuff, which sounded particularly odd on the phone!”) Although Cline is happy with his contribution to Sky Music, it’s not his favorite track on the album; that honor goes to David Torn’s multi-dimensional run through “Avskjed,” a song that Rypdal originally recorded for his ninth album as a leader, 1980’s Descendre. “David’s playing on that just floored me,” Cline says. “To me, that alone is worth the price of admission.”

Why was Rypdal so influential to these American players? In part, because he was one of the earliest jazz guitarists to stretch out sonically and embrace timbres that had long been associated with rock: searing distortion, big reverb and, perhaps most important, the vibrato bar. The twang of Duane Eddy, the Ventures and especially the Shadows’ Hank Marvin was a key early influence on Rypdal, and that’s never left his playing—the almost vocal level of expressiveness he’s since developed on the whammy has few parallels. “When Jeff Beck uses the bar to sound like a Georgian singer,” Kaiser says, “he’s doing what Rypdal would do.”

But it wasn’t just the tonal aspects of his playing that set Rypdal apart. His studies in the early Seventies at the Oslo Music Conservatory with pianist, composer and theorist George Russell opened his mind compositionally. “I hate to call what he does ‘European,’ ” Frisell comments, “but there is something in his sound that seems to bring that out. And when I say ‘sound,’ I don’t mean the guitars or the amps or the pedals he used. I mean the voice that’s coming from him, the sense of space, the patience, the feeling that’s it not so much about cramming in a whole bunch of notes.”

In Scandinavia, Rypdal is venerated by a generation of guitarists, especially for the more rock-ish music he made in the Eighties and Nineties with his instrumental power trio the Chasers. Fellow Norwegian Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen, who’s been making extraordinary prog-jazz with her own trio for the past eight years, was aware of Rypdal’s music from a young age but only started listening to him seriously when “someone approached me after a show, commenting that he [Rypdal] must be my biggest influence. Then I understood I needed to check him out some more—and I still am. Rypdal’s approach to music showed me fields I was about to move into. When he is at his best, he is like a controlled, continuous explosion: the recklessness, the ability to play more than you maybe are capable of and still making it work.”

In America, Rypdal remains a cult figure at best. “He was better known in the Seventies,” Kaiser says, “but he never toured much in the U.S. I think he’s come here three or four times at the most. [A brief jaunt in 2012, including a date at New York’s Le Poisson Rouge, is his only such trip in recent memory.] So except for the oldsters who bought the ECM records back then, folks aren’t that aware of him.”

He may not come Stateside often, but at 70, Rypdal continues to perform and record and to show enviable range. His most recent album, 2013’s Melodic Warrior, featured collaborations with two orchestras and vocal group the Hilliard Ensemble, renowned for their a cappella performances of medieval and Renaissance music. Here, too, he’s an inspiration. “As I get into my twilight years,” Cline says with a laugh, “I hope I can do something like Rypdal: realize compositional ideas that don’t have to involve me as a player, that just have to involve my dreams of what’s possible.”

So what does the man himself think of Sky Music? “I’ve been wondering that,” Kaiser says. “I’m told it was sent to him, and I wrote him a letter just saying, ‘Thanks a lot,’ but I haven’t heard anything from him. He did let us have his keyboard player, and I’ve noticed that since we recorded the album [in August 2016], he’s added a couple of old tunes to his live set, and he got back together with the bass player he had in the Seventies. Was that affected by what we were doing? I have no idea. But I do know that none of us would be the same without him.”

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  • praga37

    Very progressive stuff this man is doing… I like it.

  • Richard Perriment

    Outstanding contributions to next jazz stylings.