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Terje RYPDAL (b. 1947)
Melodic Warrior (2003)* [44:13]
And The Sky Was Coloured With Waterfalls And Angels (2009)** [27:12]
Terje Rypdal (electric guitar)
The Hilliard Ensemble, Bruckner Orchester Linz/Dennis Russell Davies*
Wroclow Philharmonic Orchestra/Sebastian Perlowski**
rec. December 2003, Brucknerhaus, Linz* and November 2009, Jazztopad Festival, Wrocław**
ECM RECORDS ECM 2006 [69:13]

Terje Rypdal is perhaps better known in the jazz world than as a composer of ‘serious’ contemporary music, but the ECM label has supported several of his larger scale works, including Lux Aeterna (see review).
Melodic Warrior, was commissioned by the Hilliard Ensemble and uses texts drawn from Native American poetry. These are evocative of the natural world, but are alas not reproduced in the booklet.
The colours of Rypdal’s sustained electric guitar lines are a unifying factor in this work, soaring over the wide variety of textures and sounds emerging from a huge orchestra. Without the texts were are left guessing somewhat, but the orchestra clearly serves to illustrate elemental forces, chaos, weather, landscape. The Hilliard Ensemble are sometimes asked to do unexpected things, and it is fascinating to hear their distinctive tones in this context, doing stuff which you wouldn’t think would be within their comfort zone.
Terje Rypdal is “a musician who has spent much of his creative life in the spaces between the genres”, so you would expect this to be something of a mixture of styles. There are moments which might call to mind the orchestral eccentricities of Rued Langgaard’s Music of the Spheres, there are grand cinematic gestures, moments of jazzy bluesyness and - it has to be said - a certain amount overblown pomp-rock tackiness. There are also some segments of tender beauty and striking effectiveness, but none of it really gels into something I would take with me to my desert island. Such works will impact on people in different ways, and I would be the last to dismiss the magnificent scale of ambition and energetic forcefulness of the work. Some of the best material seems to emerge almost by way of transition, such as the marvellous field of sound towards the end of My Music reaches To The Sky. This is then followed by the Mantovani-esque schmaltz of But Then Again, and my spirits sink somewhat. I’m as eclectic as the next man and have no difficulty with segmented compositions, crossovers or on-going switches in style, but I miss the steely rod of a sustained structure and message which will drag me through the piece, mouth agape, from beginning to end. There are too many glittery distractions.

And The Sky Was Coloured With Waterfalls And Angels was inspired by the pyrotechnics of the Cannes’ International Fireworks Festival. It starts as if someone had opened a soundproofed door onto a concert which was already halfway through. Rypdal’s heavily resonant guitar is again featured, though by no means ubiquitously. Orchestral effects familiar from the earlier work of Penderecki can be identified, though Rypdal is a touch heavy-handed with the percussion to my mind. This is darker music than Melodic Warrior and the better for it, though Rypdal has a knack of hamstringing himself by over-egging his pudding. Let’s leave out the glockenspiel for a start, it won’t be missed, and we’ll avoid all Ronnie Hazlehurst naffness at a stroke. Growling low brass always works well, and the massive orchestral crescendos in Waterfalls 2 and 3 are fine though there is a feature of the recording which works against some of the more active moments. The violins are quite closely recorded, and leap out on occasion where it would be better if they blended into the general sonic picture. Rypdal is better on his way up in these crescendos, but doesn’t seem to have a strong idea of how to climb down from them.
The booklet notes by Tyran Grillo receive my ‘Tin Bum of Rangoon’ award for 2013, with almost every sentence a masterpiece of the most vacuous artsy guff imaginable. These are both live performances, and there is a little audience noise here and there though the hugeness of the sound usually makes this inaudible. Someone coughs into a microphone at 3:00 into the first movement of And The Sky… which is a little more disturbing, but is refreshing evidence of an untampered-with live recording. I don’t want to be hard on Rypdal, who is one of the good guys of our musical community, but I come away from this kind of thing asking myself what he would do with something like a string quartet. This is a release which fizzes with ambition and sonic spectacle, but I wonder how many of us are left asking ourselves where the journey has taken us, and what we’ve learned.
Dominy Clements