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Terje Rypdal - Odyssey: In Studio, In Concert

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Artist: Terje Rypdal

Album: Odyssey: In Studio, In Concert

Label: ECM

Review date: Oct. 11, 2012

The first 10 years of ECM’s existence — 1969-1979 — were extraordinary. The label still releases excellent and often challenging music, but there was something magical about that period of discovery, a time when the label and the music it documented were in a youthful stage of research and development. To date, the Old and New Masters series explores those years and their immediate aftermath. Each box set is devoted to the genesis of a group, or to its most important discs, sometimes restoring tracks to CD release that had to be dropped from earlier editions due to time constraints. Each set is presented in ECM’s excellent sound and accompanied by illuminating essays and reminiscences. The latest installment is Norwegian multi-instrumentalist and composer Terje Rypdal’s Odyssey from 1975.

The music’s excellence has long been acknowledged. Listening through the double-disc reissue, now restored to its proper length with the reinstatement of the side-long “Rolling Stone,” it’s easy to hear the diversity of Rypdal’s compositional accomplishments. In the four years succeeding his debut as leader for ECM, a tightening of his ostinato aesthetic occurred, a streamlining of each timbre and layer. Diversity was still integral to his vision, evident in the juxtaposition of hard-rocking tracks like “Over Birkerot” with the lush and bitter-sweet “Adagio,” but it was all newly focused as Rypdal’s approach hinted at things to come on After the Rain. His group was first-rate, with Torbjørn Sunde on trombone, Brynjulf Blix manning the organ, and Sveinung Hovensjø and Svein Christiansen on bass and drums, respectively. Sunde’s playing sounds especially fresh, inhabiting a place somewhere between French horn and muted trumpet but sounding exactly like neither. Hovensjo also got a chance to stretch out on “Better Off Without you,” his debt to Hugh Hopper evident as he takes that pioneer’s distorted logic one step further. Then, there’s “Rolling Stone,” somewhat closer to Rypdal’s earlier post-Miles Davis efforts, with Blix letting go some positively scary clusters as Rypdal floats those beautifully flexible guitar lines over them, and Sunde covers the entire range his trombone will allow. Rypdal fans have been clamoring for this track to be released on disc, and if that were the only extra on offer, there would be reason for celebration.

ECM is not in the habit of including unreleased material on their reissues. It does happen occasionally, but surprisingly rarely with a catalog that large and diverse. I was shocked to learn that the third disc of this set was a live 1976 radio broadcast of the Odyssey band, without Sunde, and featuring a suite of unreleased material called “Unfinished Highball.” Beyond that, the music is scored for the Odyssey group and a big band, material Rypdal initially wouldn’t commit to disc. We are given over an hour of crystal-clear sound, which is essential, as the music runs the gamut from softly translucent shadings, conjuring Gil Evans, to the raucous and powerful fusion that made the Odyssey band famous. Most tantalizing of all are the minute circumlocutions, mainly in brass and winds, around the safer material into free jazz territory. As with the album proper, all is shot through with Rypdal’s reedy guitar lines, alternately aquiver in vibrato and razor-sharp. The inter-movement transitions are flawlessly executed, and it seems impossible that such a document could have remained unpublished for so long.

Taken as a unit, these three discs encapsulate and expand upon an important stage in Rypdal’s career, and the set is capped by John Kellman’s excellent liner notes. He offers up a thorough historical context while also placing the music in proper perspective. This box is now Odyssey’s definitive form and an extremely valuable edition to the Rypdal discography.

By Marc Medwin

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