Review Summary: With Odyssey, Rypdal proves just what a unique talent he is, blending jazz fusion with atmospheric ambience while incorporating his trademark emotional guitar style.
Very few, if any, jazz guitarists can claim to have such an emotionally charged guitar style as Norwegian guitarist Terje Rypdal. Having emerged in the late 60’s, Rypdal has remained a prominent figure in Norway’s jazz scene and for most of his career has contributed greatly to German jazz label ECM’s impressive discography. Boasting a unique approach to jazz and fusion guitar playing, Rypdal has not only enjoyed an impressive and prolific solo career but has also collaborated with a great number of other highly respected jazz musicians such as Ketil Bjornstad and David Darling. However it is his 1975 solo double album, Odyssey, that stands as his definitive album.
The listener is immediately greeted with Rypdal’s soaring lead guitar in the opening track, Darkness Falls. Rypdal’s guitar tone sounds like a cross between that of David Gilmour’s and Gary Moore’s, crystal clear with enough vibrato to allow for further expression through his expert phrasing. Unlike a lot of jazz or jazz-fusion guitar players, Rypdal focusses more on melody and feeling than he does on groove and technicality and it’s this feel for emotion that makes Odyssey such an engaging listen, allowing the listener to tap into the moods and atmospheres of the music, creating a very moving and intense listening experience.
The album’s second track, Midnite, is based around a hypnotic, slow building rhythm which provides a basis for the layered instrumentation that is used so effectively throughout the album. Torbjorn Sunde’s eerie Trombone and Rypdal’s subdued guitar playing weave through Svein Christiansen’s gentle but precise percussion creating a fairly dark and intense atmosphere. Rypdal’s guitar playing doesn’t become a dominant force in the song until well after the half way mark, giving the soaring lead an even greater impact when it eventually arrives towards the latter stages of the song. Adagio follows a similar pattern in terms of structure but relies more on atmospheric ambience than the subtle hypnotic groove heard on Midnite. Adagio stands out as one of the album’s highlights, creating a transcendent atmosphere before climaxing with one of Rypdal’s finest guitar solos. The Norwegian guitarist manages to maintain a remarkable level of emotional intensity throughout this lengthy guitar solo, recalling the kind of fluidity heard in Steve Hackett’s legendary Firth of Fifth solo.
While it is Rypdal’s guitar that is the main highlight here, the guitarist also allows the other instruments to play their part, not just as a backdrop for his soaring leads, but also as the driving force behind much of the material. Sunde’s trombone and Brynjulf Blix’s organ are both used to great effect throughout the album while Sveinung Hovensjo (bass) and Svein Christiansen (drums) provide a faultless rhythm section that is at its most impressive during the album’s more rock influenced tracks such as the excellent Over Bikerot. However Hovensjo’s bass work plays an equally important part during the more laid back material such as the beautiful Ballade where the bassist lays down some excellent, relaxed bass lines that help carry the song’s melody as well as provide a solid backdrop for the rest of the instruments.
Odyssey closes with what is perhaps its most ambitious track, the 24 minute Rolling Stone. This epic closer starts off with a typically atmospheric intro before leading into a more rock based rhythm led by a plodding guitar riff from Rypdal augmented by Christiansen’s creative drumming. The song then leads into an epic jam session where all five band members are given a certain amount of room to stretch out, with the exception of Hovensjo whose repetitive bass line provides the necessary restraint to keep the whole thing firmly under control. Blix’s organ playing is explorative but for the most part concentrates on providing atmosphere while Rypdal lays down some of his most creative and exciting guitar playing. The track reaches its climax when Rypdal returns to the song’s original guitar riff while Blix’s organ becomes noticeably heavier and more prominent before the song slowly fades out. Rolling Stone is without doubt one of the standout tracks on the album, standing alongside Adagio as one of Rypdal’s finest achievements.
If there’s one criticism that could be applied to Odyssey it’s the fact that for some listeners, there may not be enough musical diversity throughout the album’s 85 minute run time. That being said however, the album isn’t completely lacking in stylistic variety, the rock influences heard in Over Bikerot and Rolling Stone provide a good contrast to softer tracks such as Ballade and Fare Well, and there is more than enough creativity flowing through the lengthier songs to justify their (and the album’s) duration.
Overall Odyssey is a superb album featuring some truly remarkable guitar playing from one of the jazz scenes most overlooked guitarists. This album is highly recommended to anyone who has an interest in the more experimental side of jazz or even those who aren’t familiar with jazz but have a keen interest in electric guitar playing in general.