Terje Rypdal – Crime Scene (2010)

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by S. Victor Aaron

If you’re a big ECM Records fan like I am, then you’d probably even remember your first ECM record. For a lot of those types, this one is most likely their first ECM. For me, though, it was Terje’s Rypdal’s Waves, which I picked up just a few years after its 1978 release because I once caught the opening tune “Per Ulv” on college radio and became entranced by it’s hypnotic rhythms and suspended melodies. Since then, I’ve gotten to know many more fascinating artists who called this label home, and occasionally went back to the music of this Oslo-born guitarist, composer and bandleader.

Last June 22 brought Rypdal’s 20th or so album for ECM, Crime Scene, an expansive and ambitious project. Come to think of it, nearly every Rypdal record is ambitious. Vossabrygg (2006) sought to make a Nordic Bitches Brew. Lux Aeterna (2003) consisted of Rypal’s band playing Rypdal’s composed movements alongside the Bergan Chamber Ensemble. Double Concerto (2000) was an even more overt plunge into classical music. Q.E.D.(1993) was yet another stab at chamber music with contemporary twists.

Crime Scene repeats the formula of grafting these two seemingly incompatible forms of music, and Rypdal is once again simultaneously composing for a large ensemble and a small one. This time, it’s the Bergan Big Band who came calling, and when Rypdal composed the pieces, he did so with the knowledge that three of the Big Band’s players doubled on bass clarinet, and that this large ensemble had recently tackled the music of late-period John Coltrane. The resulting music is nominally themed on crime cinema, with samples of movie and radio dialogue from crime-based movies and plays scattered throughout and the movements were given names in accordance with that theme. But even Rypdal himself stresses that the connection between the music itself and this the theme is a loose one, at best. The real theme is a tribute to the music of John Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders. The composed pieces allow for plenty improvisation, reconciling the unencumbered expressions of two sax legends with the elaborately structured sonic textures and nuances of European chamber music, and using jazz big band to do it. That’s a very tall order to fill.

Like Lux Aeterna, however, Rypdal made his band the core component of the overall instrumentation. Trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg, who had contributed on that Waves record, is present for this record, too. As is Ståle Storløkken and his Hammond B-3 organ, and Paolo Vinaccia on drums and sampling. Also like that prior album, these meticulously composed pieces are performed live. The audience sounds have been edited out, so what remains is the immediacy of a live performance but retaining some of the studio purity ECM is renowned for.

Well, sometimes. The Bergen Big Band, a seventeen piece ensemble directed by Olav Dale, also has a core unit with a guitarist, keyboardist and drums (as well as double-bassist who doubles on electric bassist. The redundancy of contemporary instruments sometimes creates a din resembling a very large garage band.

A single performance nominally broken up into fourteen tracks, Crime Scene is clearly meant to be listened to all in one sitting.”Clint – The Menace” puts those three bass clarinets to use, putting the noir in film noir. This brief horn arrangement soon gives way to a solo tenor performance (“Prime Suspects”) that is joined into a dissonant conversation with another tenor sax player and then a bass clarinetist, under a bed of suspended dark harmonics paced by Storløkken’s lurking organ. The music finally breaks open into full-on rock (“Don Rypero”) and it’s here where Rypdal’s soaring, piercing guitar fully emerges from the fog. The horns by this time have receded all the way back and Rypdal, with a mutated form of slide blues guitar, takes center stage against against a bombastic rock groove. It’s akin to taking a short trip from Meditations to Tribute To Jack Johnson. “Suspicious Behaviour” continues the groove into Storløkken’s B-3 solo. “The Good Cop” is where Mikkelborg makes his first notable appearance, improvising over the still-churning rhythms in a Miles-like demeanor (making me think this record is as much of a Miles tribute as it is a Coltrane/Sanders one). He continues on, with his horn muted by this time, fronting the majestic, classical horn arrangement of “Is That A Fact.”

“Parli con me?!” is the only piece not composed by Rypdal (it’s credited to Vinaccia), a heavily sampled track using a sound collage of crime movie dialogue set against what appears to be both sets of drums meting out a hip-hop beat before they break down the beat into freedom. It’s a big left turn into contemporary sounds inserted smack in the middle of the whole proceedings. “The Criminals” jerks the listener right back into 60s avante garde, featuring two tenors battling it out in a frenzied double-solo. “Action” is Rypdal’s second feature, whereby his skittering slide re-emerges in another jazz-rock setting. “One Of Those” couldn’t be any more opposite than the prior track, a straight classical movement with Mikkelborg’s open horn acting as a soloist. “It’s Not Been Written Yet” continues the classical interlude. Mikkelborg returns to front the fusion interlude “Investigation” (by this time, ideas are being revisited, presumably to strengthen the coherency of the suite). Rypdal’s finest moment comes on “A Minor Incident,” where using the backdrop of a luscious horn arrangement, he peels off one of his signature weeping guitar solos. “Crime Solved” winds down the show with a dark and ambient classical movement performed entirely by the Bergen Big Band.

The movie audio snippets interspersed throughout the performance is superfluous and sometimes a distraction from the music. The change-up in styles is often abrupt and makes it difficult to absorb the performance as a single piece the way it’s intended. But more often than not, Terje Rypdal goes for what might be appreciated a lot somewhere in the future over what would likely be appreciated a little bit now. Jazz is better off with visionaries like him who swings for the fences conjuring up and putting into practice ideas that in theory look impossible to pull off. Crime Scene is one of those albums that doesn’t demand frequent listens but for the most part, it’s a quality listen for times when boundary-pushing, European chamber jazz is called for.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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