CD review

Terje Rypdal – “Conspiracy”

Terje Rypdal – Conspiracy
(ECM 6025 0895911 Review by Graham Spry)

For followers of  Terje Rypdal’s 50 years of recording on ECM, listening to Conspiracy is like immersing oneself in a warm bath. Those who feared that on his first studio album for 20 years Rypdal might be tempted away from his strengths as an electric guitarist (chiefly a Fender Stratocaster) can relax. He continues to make music that is atmospheric, well-structured and gently exploratory. His guitar is very much the lead instrument and Rypdal plays in such a way that it is virtually impossible to detect when composition ends and improvisation begins.

Although the Fender Stratocaster is inevitably associated with the jazz rock of the 1970s, there appears to be a revived interest in what an electric guitar can do. Recent albums by old masters like David Torn (especially his epic solo album Only Sky) and by young British guitarists such as Ant Law and Rob Luft demonstrate that there is still much more for the jazz guitarist to discover in the instrument. However, although Rypdal’s influences clearly include rock guitarists like Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix and Hank Marvin, his is primarily a Norwegian sound often evocative of wide-open landscapes and perhaps a chill northerly wind.

All the musicians in his quartet are, like Rypdal himself, Scandinavian. Both Ståle Storløkken (keyboards) and Pål Thowsen (drums) performed on ECM records in the 1970s. On Fender Precision and fretless bass is Endre Hareide Hallre who is by far the youngest musician in the group, but one who Rypdal says he has “played with virtually since kindergarten!”. Certainly, Hallre’s bass guitar makes a major contribution to the music and on occasion is almost the lead instrument.

The overall feel of the album, as impeccably produced as ever by Manfred Eicher, is very much what one continues to associate with ECM. It opens with scattering tympani and wistful guitar before gradually stepping up the volume on the first track, As If The Ghost … Was Me?, that sets the general mood of the album to come, whether soft or loud. This leads comfortably into What Was I Thinking that re-establishes a reflective mood, until the third and title track Conspiracy arrives with its pounding rhythm and much louder and faster electric guitar and keyboard, underpinned by a rolling bass, and which may well be the track on the album most likely to appeal to fans of rock music.

The second side of the album returns to an introspective ambient feel with By His Lonesome, where the instruments feel leashed in, occasionally threatening to break free but held back. Baby Beautiful maintains this atmosphere of restrained energy until the final track Dawn brings the album to a close with sparse guitar sounds and low unintrusive bass that, as the title suggests, has the feel of dawn breaking over the kind of windswept, stormy and cold landscape evoked by the cover illustration.

There is little to fault in Conspiracy in terms of composition, delivery or production. It is exactly the kind of album a long-term fan of Terje Rypdal has been waiting for. It is a good fit with Rypdal’s extensive discography and helps maintain a tradition in jazz of which Rypdal is very much a master. It may not have much of ‘the shock of the new’, but will probably end up being played on the turntable more often than many might expect, where each new listen reveals fresh depths and intricacies.

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