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Vossabrygg by Terje Rypdal

Hippies, good sex, high times, the rise of youth culture. Even those of us who were too young to remember them (or maybe, especially those of us who were too young too remember them) have rosy if myopic memories of the 1960s. Nostalgia is nearsighted by definition, I guess, which might be why the enraged electric voodoo jungle jazz that Miles Davis began to explore at the end of that decade has been neglected by revivalists. After all, it really doesn’t fit in with flower children and free love.

That said, every once in a while, don’t you just get a jones for those seething sonic walls of dark mystery? I do. And so, apparently, does Norwegian composer-guitarist Terje Rypdal. From the very first seconds of his 2006 ECM release, Vossabrygg op. 84, it sounds like the eight-piece ensemble is channelling the Dark Prince of Jazz. And, indeed, the very name of the 10-part suite translates to "Vossa Brew," alluding to Norway’s Vossa Jazz Festival, for which the work was written, and Davis’ 1969 lightning bolt, Bitches Brew.

The long opening number, "Ghostdancing," makes no effort to hide its influences. Multiple chordal instruments - Rypdal’s guitar, Bugge Wesseltoft’s electric piano, Ståle Storløkken’s Hammond organ and several additional synthesizers - swirl atop pulsing rock rhythms by two drummers, Jon Christensen (who has played with Rypdal since the late ’60s) and Italy’s Paolo Vinaccia, while sparse trumpet lines by Palle Mikkelborg (a good friend of Miles, who, in 1985, composed Aura for him) splash and leap, half playful, half menacing. Adding to the energy, the recording was made live during the 2003 Vossa Festival, and only recently edited and mixed for release by Rypdal pére and fils.

On much of the rest of the album, the MD nods are less overt, though these days it’s pretty much impossible to make jazz-rock without acknowledging the debt. "Hidden Chapter," "Incognito Traveller" and "Jungletelegrafen" bear the fingerprint of a younger generation, with hiphop beats, distorted guitars and liberal use of sampling and other electronic tricks, and in fact, they were co-written by Marius Rypdal, Terje’s son. But Miles even went there with his surprisingly successful fusion of jazz and rap on 1991’s Doo-Bop. (Marius also is responsible for the transitions between the movements, all of which he sampled from his dad’s earlier compositions.)

"Waltz for Broken Hearts/Makes You Wonder" is a beautiful, slow ballad more in the spirit of Davis’ 1957 L’Ascenseur Pour L’Echafaud, the soundtrack he wrote for the Louis Malle noir thriller, which, to stretch things a bit, could be called a fusion of jazz and film. And "That’s More Like It" and "You’re Making It Personal" bring to mind later fusions of jazz and pop, as on Miles’ You’re Under Arrest, though Pat Metheny’s soaring guitar work and perhaps even Vangelis also are invoked at times. All in all, Vossabrygg is nearly as surprising and arresting as the works that spawned it. While bowing to a dearly departed master, it also achieves new things, has a contemporary edge that is alternately raw and refined, and explores new sounds, moods and textures. It also raises an interesting question about Miles: Can one really get nostalgic for something so far ahead of its time that it still sounds fresh?

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Terje Rypdal
  • CD Title: Vossabrygg
  • Genre: Contemporary Jazz / Modern
  • Year Released: 2006
  • Record Label: ECM
  • Rating: Four Stars
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