Wednesday, June 02, 2010
Reviewed by: Ian Mann
An ambitious project with some fine writing and playing.
(ECM 2041 273 3215)
Norwegian guitarist Terje Rypdal has been associated with the ECM label from the very beginning and has amassed a substantial discography as both leader and sideman including the playing of a key role in Jan Garbarek’s early recordings. I have to admit that he’s far from being my favourite ECM artist, Rypdal’s “stratosphere music” has often degenerated into aimless impressionistic noodling at one end of the scale and prog rock style excess at the other. However there’s no denying that he’s been an innovator on the electric guitar blending jazz, rock and contemporary classical influences to forge a distinctively European approach to the instrument. His music certainly isn’t “fusion” in the accepted American “jazz rock” sense of the word.
The 21st Century has represented something of a creative renaissance for Rypdal. In 2003 he recorded “Vossabrygg”, an exploration of the legacy of Miles Davis’ landmark “Bitches Brew” that on it’s release in 2006 became Rypdal’s most acclaimed album in years. In a sense “Crime Scene” represents the long awaited follow up. Both albums are the result of commissions from leading Norwegian jazz festivals and both are concert recordings. “Vossabrygg” was commissioned by the Voss festival and “Crime Scene” by the 2009 Nattjazz Festival in Bergen. The new record is even more ambitious than it’s predecessor with Rypdal here writing for his quartet plus the seventeen piece Bergen Big Band.
“Crime Scene” finds Rypdal joined by long-collaborators Palle Mikkelborg (trumpet), Stale Storlokken (Hammond B-3 organ) and drummer Paolo Vinaccia. All three also contributed to the earlier “Vossabrygg”. If “Vossabrygg” explored the legacy of Miles Davis then “Crime Scene” represents Rypdal’s attempt to update some of the ideas of saxophonists John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders. There is also a film-noir feel to Rypdal’s writing, particularly in his brooding arrangements for the massed horns of the Bergen Big Band. “Crime Scene” also uses snippets of sampled speech from classic US crime and mafia movies to give the music a conceptual feel. Thus we hear the voices of Clint Eastwood, Robert De Niro and others forming a kind of narrative. Although divided into fourteen “episodes” “Crime Scene” is essentially a single piece of music with the voices providing a kind of punctuation. The use of speech however is not totally successful, there are times when the voices distract the listener’s attention from the music.
The Bergen Big Band is led and conducted by flautist Olav Dale who also doubles on bass clarinet. With two of the band’s saxophonists (altoist Jan Kare Hystad and bari man Michael Barnes) also capable of doubling this gave Rypdal the opportunity of using the unusual configuration of three bass clarinets,the wonderfully woody sound being heard right at the beginning of the recording on “Clint-The Menace” which mixes sampled Eastwood with brooding reeds and brass.
“Prime Suspects” blends the bass clarinets with squalling tenors and the sound washes of Storlokken’s Hammond. As the piece gains in intensity Vinaccia’s drums take on a greater role and Rypdal enters the proceedings for the first time. At this stage everything still sounds pretty free and unstructured and it’s not until the beginning of “Don Rypero” that Vinaccia begins to lay down a solid beat. At this point Rypdal takes off with a thrilling, soaring solo that combines the energy of rock with the intelligence of jazz with Storlokken’s Hammond the perfect foil. It’s powerful, visceral stuff that rockers would love if they heard it in isolation -“stratosphere music” indeed. The urgent mood continues through “Suspicious Behaviour” as Storlokken takes over the lead.
Although the track divisions are somewhat arbitrary “The Good Cop” is a showcase for the talents of Mikkelborg who blows punchy, echo drenched trumpet, still very much in a jazz/rock context. In time this segues into the more impressionistic “Is That A Fact” with Mikkelborg still the dominant instrumentalist. Pretty much everything the Danish born Mikkelborg does owes something to the influence of Miles Davis and his playing here is no exception.
The only episode of “Crime Scene” not written by Rypdal is “Parli Con Me?!” a collage of speech and other sound samples assembled by Vinnacia and held together by his own drumming. It’s highly effective in it’s own way and adds a refreshingly contemporary touch to the proceedings.
The Coltrane/Sanders aspect is thoroughly investigated on the “The Criminals”, a full on sax duel between tenorists Ole Jakob Hystad and Zoltan Vincze aided and abetted by Storlokken and Vinaccia. The following “Action” is another surging guitar workout with Rypdal sounding as if he’s using a slide.
“One Of Those “ comes as a total contrast, a fragile trumpet mediation from Mikkelborg against a backdrop of minimalist brass and subliminal Hammond. The reflective, almost sombre mood continues throughout the lengthy “It’s Not Been Written Yet” which features some of Rypdal’s best and most atmospheric large ensemble writing. The piece also features the highly textured interplay of Rypdal and Mikkelborg before more speech samples meander in and out. Finally the big band explore some almost impossibly deep sonorities on the most noirish track yet.
“Investigation” emerges from the darkness and explodes into some of the ensemble’s most incendiary playing yet. Mikkelborg shines on dynamic electric hooked trumpet, his contribution matched by Storlokken’s feverish organ work and Vinaccia’s powerful drumming. The piece segues into “A Minor Incident” which features Rypdal at his most Floydian and ends with the solo bass of Magne Thormodsaeter.
The closing “Crime Solved” wraps things up but its sombre, brooding tones hardly hint at a neat resolution thus retaining the film noir feel to the bitter end. Significantly all audience applause has been edited out to ensure that the atmosphere of the music remains intact.
Like many of Rypdal’s albums “Crime Scene” is something of a frustrating record. It’s an ambitious project and there’s some excellent playing and writing here. There are inevitable longueurs and the speech samples are sometimes intrusive on record although I don’t doubt that they worked very well in concert on the night.
There’s enough here to make “Crime Scene” a success and the quartet are particularly impressive when they cut loose and cease being “a band within a band”. On the whole I enjoyed “Crime Scene” but “concept album” not withstanding it’s still the kind of record that I’m more likely to dip into than play in it’s entirety.
JAZZ MANN FEATURES
The second day of the festival with performances from groups led by Clark Tracey, Jim Mullen, Art Themen and Don Weller plus a closing set from the Peter King / Mornington Lockett Quintet.
Ian Mann enjoys the first day of the fifth Titley Jazz Festival with performances by the Brownfield/ Byrne Quintet, Peter King/Dick Pearce Quintet, Steve Waterman, and Anita Wardell.