Terje Rypdal: Crime Scene

Terje Rypdal
Crime Scene

This album by Norwegian guitarist-composer Terje Rypdal complements his small combo (including Palle Mikkelborg on trumpet, Ståle Storløkken on Hammond organ, and Paolo Vinaccia on drums) with Norway’s Bergen Big Band to create an extended work rich with detail. A number of samples taken from crime and gangster films are added to the mix, leading to a performance that is often reminiscent of the soundtrack- and noir-inspired work of John Zorn, particularly Zorn’s albums Spillane, The Big Gundown, and Naked City.

As with Zorn, the music is an ever-changing patchwork, moving swiftly between the dissonant and the melodious. The playing of Bergen Big Band calls to mind the exploratory saxophone work of John Coltrane and his 1960s collaborators, perhaps not surprising given its recent Coltrane tribute album. For Rypdal, such references serve to complement the explicit homage he paid to Bitches Brew-era Miles Davis on his well-received Vossabrygg album in 2006. Coltrane’s late recordings and Miles’ electric experimentation were reportedly key influences on the guitarist at the beginning of his career, along with the time-and-space-shattering pyrotechnics of Hendrix and the emerging possibilities being sketched out by the Norwegian jazz scene.

Following the muted start of “Clint – The Menace”, the album takes off with “Prime Suspects”, the saxophones opening up the kind of questing dialog that Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders were famed for. The intensity of the piece never lets up throughout its near-seven-minute running time, becoming, if anything, more intense as Rypdal’s guitar asserts itself in the narrative, leading the ensemble seamlessly into the heavy riffing and drumming of “Don Rypero”. As Rypdal piles on the pressure on what is essentially a jazz-prog-metal hybrid, he proves once more what a dynamic and fascinating guitarist he is. There are shades of Can or Soft Machine at times, though, as the piece morphs into “Suspicious Behaviour”, the reemergence of the Big Band lends a quite different sonority to the proceedings.

“The Good Cop” could be an outtake from Bitches Brew or Vossabrygg, for that matter. The sublime mix of electric instruments and trumpet gradually breaks down to allow the trumpet to move into the late-night noir-drenched melancholy of “Is That a Fact”. “Parli con me?!” mixes samples from The Godfather and Silence of the Lambs with Robert De Niro’s famous “You talkin’ to me?” routine from Taxi Driver, as a brooding, minimalist accompaniment gives way to a basic hip-hop drum template.

Following this interlude, the second half of Crime Scene replicates the dynamic of the first, with the skronking saxophone conversation of “The Criminals” leading to the guitar-shredding “Action” and the trumpet-based “One of Those”. “It’s Not Been Written Yet”, another evocation of the dark dead hours of the noir world, is the longest piece on the album and smacks rather of self-indulgence as the Big Band winds down and occasional samples enter to buoy the sagging narrative. A snaking bass alerts listeners to the mood change of “Investigation”, which mixes wah-wah guitar, trumpet, alto saxophone, and Hammond to exciting effect. As Rypdal’s effects-laden guitar soars briefly over the muted accompaniment of “A Minor Incident”, it serves as a reminder of the style that his ECM listeners have become accustomed to, while also highlighting the extent to which he has ceded the musical lead for much of the album to his accompanists. It only remains for the latter to bring the work to a restrained close with the mournful horns of “Crime Solved”.

Crime Scene bears eloquent testimony to Rypdal’s long voyage through blues, jazz, rock, and orchestral work, while providing further evidence suggesting that he is one of the most interesting electric guitarists of the last four decades. He may be downplaying his virtuosity on this ensemble exercise in comparison to his recent, wonderful collaborative album with Ketil Bjørnstad, but his musicality shines through regardless.

RATING 7 / 10