Various Artists – Sky Music, A Tribute To Terje Rypdal (2017)

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feature photo: Roberto Masotti/ECM Records

No, Terje Rypdal is still thankfully among us, but with a rich discography stretching back more than fifty years, the Norwegian guitar legend’s 70th birthday is as good occasion as any to pay the man his due. Sky Music, A Tribute To Terje Rypdal (September 29, 2017 from Rune Grammofon) is a sensitively complex appreciation for a complex artist, a project helmed by an early fan and fellow experimental guitarist Henry Kaiser.

The title is probably a reference to Rypdal’s Skywards LP or his composition “My Music Reaches To The Sky” from the recent Melodic Warrior, taking a cross-section of Rypdal’s work spanning from his 1971 self-titled album up through his first collaboration with fellow guitarist Ronni Le Tekrø in 1997. It’s a rote expression, but Rypdal really is a ‘guitarist’s guitarist’ whose name recognition is grossly outweighed by the magnitude of his influence on many widely regarded practitioners of the instrument. Several of them headed Kaiser’s call to illuminate Rypdal’s idiosyncratic genius through their own idiosyncrasies.

Bill Frisell — like Rypdal — has a guitar that can be instantly recognized just by the way the notes resonate, as his unaccompanied, uncluttered elucidations on “Ørnen” make clear. The other entry from Rypdal’s rock-oriented 1985 release Chaser is the self-titled cut, involving four guitarists (Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen, Reine Fiske, Even Helte Hermansen and Kaiser), a reminder of the hold Jimi Hendrix had on a younger Rypdal that lingered on well after Rypdal had embraced jazz. Despite there being a lot of cooks, no one gets in each other’s way, and the distinctive voice of each axe is easy to make out.

“Over Birkerot” features the same foursome on guitars, plus Finland’s own version of Rypdal, Raoul Björkenheim. Gard Nilssen’s propulsive drums lays down a barely-tethered 2/4 gauntlet that Björkenheim knives through, before Nilssen fades away momentarily to make way for “Silver Bird Heads For The Sun,” where a succession of stinging solos — each with a brash character of its own — pilot extended ebbs and flows carried out by Nilssen and longtime Rypdal sideman Ståle Storløkken on keys.

An early Rypdal song “Tough Enough” with the menacing bass vamp “Rolling Stone” from Odyssey tossed in the middle of it makes for nineteen captivating minutes a medley of some of his best riffs from the 70s (with some unhinged skronk moments inserted for grins). This time, all five of the “Birkerot” guitar players plus Hans Magnus Ryan are involved.

Jim O’Rourke joins Thomassen’s and Fiske’s guitars for “Sunrise”, recreating the extraterrestrial soundscape mood of the original. O’Rourke helps to accomplish this by using instruments not readily associated with Rypdal like pedal steel and acoustic guitar and manages to conjure up the same elusive vibe Rypdal created with Jack DeJohnette and Miroslav Vitous back in 1979.

No one sounds quite like Rypdal but if one would have to pick who comes closest to him, my vote would go to Nels Cline. Appropriately, perhaps, Cline undertakes the titular track from What Comes After (1973), handling not just guitar but bass and loops, and like Frisell, just revels in the celestial melody. In an inspired move, Cline mostly cedes the lead voice to a cello — that of Erik Friedlander’s. It serves to illustrate how Rypdal’s signature legato resembles that of a bowed instrument.

Sky Music doesn’t just rehash Rypdal songs, it treats us with a couple of Rypdal-penned songs that had hadn’t seen the light of day from a studio before. “Into The Wilderness” and “Out Of This World,” sandwiching “Into The Wilderness,” explores an experimental ambient side of him as well as his mastery of more formal styles of composing (he’s written and recorded several symphonies). To bring home that point, there are no guitars present on this track, as Storløkken’s organ and ringing synth washes carries out the harmony entirely.

Metal and swing come together on the overdrive-heavy “Warning: Electric Guitars” and David Torn employs modern looping other sound manipulation technology on “Avskjed” to create floating impressions much as Terje and Palle Mikkelborg used the song to exploit the effects at their disposal in the late 70s for the same purpose.

The impressive array of guitarists who contributed to this project speaks loudly to the influence Rypdal has had to generation of plectrists, each of whom have their own distinctive way of expression. That’s why Kaiser had so succinctly summed up Terje Rypdal’s influence when he attests that “Hendrix, B.B. (King), Django Reinhardt – if they are your heroes, you try to sound like them. Rypdal inspires you to sound like yourself. He opens a door to another reality, like the best art does.”

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,, 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
S. Victor Aaron
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