The Upshot: Given both the passion behind the performances and the names at play, it’s clear that the Norwegian jazz guitarist/composer commands respect in the circles of beloved creative improvisers.
BY MICHAEL TOLAND
Though practically a rock star in his native Norway and creator of Odyssey, one of the 70s’ best fusion records, guitarist/composer Terje Rypdal barely qualifies as a cult artist in the States. But those in the know, know. Organized by San Francisco eclectician Henry Kaiser, Sky Music rounds a baker’s dozen fans and acolytes from around the world to pay tribute by recording several of Rypdal’s tunes. Rypdal has written and performed everything from free jazz and fusion to classical music and surf rock, but the musicians here concentrate on his jazz side.
The majority of the tracks revolve around sessions anchored by Kaiser and a Norwegian rhythm section comprised of bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (the Thing, Atomic, Scorch Trio, his own U.S.-based bands), keyboardist Ståle Storløkken (Supersilent, Elephant9, Rypdal himself) and drummer Gard Nilssen (Bushman’s Revenge). Leaning into Rypdal’s 70s work, when the axeman was one of the few fusioneers to work with the abstract palette of Bitches Brew rather than the funk- and rock-oriented sounds that garnered commercial success, the rhythm section recruits five additional guitarists for medleys from the far side of the sun. Hedvig Mollestad Trio’s namesake Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen, Dungen’s Reine Fiske, Bushman’s Revenge’s Even Helte Hermansen and Scorch Trio’s Raoul Björkenheim trade licks, solos and fills with Kaiser on “Over Birkerot/Silver Bird Heads For the Sun” and “Tough Enough/Rolling Stone/Tough Enough,” adding Motorpsycho’s Hans Magnus Ryan on the latter. It’s no decapitation fest, however – the musicians aim their six-string spray at the walls, not each other, resulting in riots of color that still stay within frame. Kaiser, Thomassen and Hermansen attack the appropriately-named “Warning: Electric Guitars” with gusto, the track’s shorter length giving it immediate impact. Storløkken also gets a solo showcase with the near-ambient “Dream Song/Into the Wilderness/Out of This World.”
Though not present for these sessions, other Americans besides Kaiser get in on the fun. Guitarist Bill Frisell opens the album with the atmospheric “Ørnen,” fellow axe god Nels Cline and cellist Erik Friedlander paint a gorgeous picture of “What Comes After,” and avant-guitarist David Torn sinks into beauty with “Avskjed.” (Torn and Frisell started their careers on ECM Records, Rypdal’s label home for four decades.) Experimental rocker Jim O’Rourke also weighs in, contributing pedal steel and guitar synthesizer, among other things, to the Scandinavian band’s propulsive psychedelic take on “Sunrise.”
Given both the passion behind the performances and the names at play, it’s clear that Rypdal commands respect in the circles of beloved creative improvisers. Perhaps Sky Music will lead some non-musician fans to his music as well.
DOWNLOAD: “Over Birkerot/Silver Bird Heads For the Sun,” “What Comes After,” “Warning: Electric Guitars”