Album Review: Conspiracy by Terje Rypdal

Five seconds of silence and then a slowly-building synth, like the spiralling of winter ghosts, accompanied by a cello-like lead guitar and flat ride cymbal: it could only be the new album by Norwegian six-string pioneer Terje Rypdal.

He has forged a unique chamber-jazz/rock sound, strong on atmosphere and melancholy, an instantly recognisable blend of textures and modes.

As a guitar stylist, he’s almost uniformly underrated, probably due to his Scandinavian origins, emphasis on tasty, original lines rather than ‘chops’, and singularity as a solo artist, though his influence can be detected in such players as David Torn, Andy Summers, Allan Holdsworth and Jeff Beck.

Recorded at Rainbow Studios in Oslo and co-produced by ECM Records boss Manfred Eicher, Conspiracy marks 50 years since Rypdal’s first appearance on the label, and it’s also his first studio album for 23 years.

It features six new Rypdal compositions and showcases his latest quartet: keyboardist Ståle Storløkken; drummer Pål Thowsen, best known for his work with Arild Andersen’s 1970s groups and sounding a lot like the recently departed Jon Christensen; and young electric bassist Endre Hareide Hallre.

‘What Was I Thinking’ is pure mood music, a soundtrack for the kinds of movies they don’t make any more (if they did, Michael Mann would surely be on the blower). The title track is an amusingly scuzzy slice of cosmic jazz/rock with a distinctly British hue, somewhere between Soft Machine and Mahavishnu, with some sleazy bass playing from Hallre, ham-fisted ‘rock’ kit work from Thowsen and unreconstructed Hammond from Storløkken. 

‘By His Lonesome’ and ‘Baby Beautiful’ are almost interchangeable, pleasing blends of synth, organ and fretless bass, with even some Mellotron thrown in on the latter. The closing ‘Dawn’ is pure ambience, more soundtrack music, a very brief excursion with synth and an occasional gong.

If occasionally reminiscent of Rypdal’s celebrated trio albums alongside Jack DeJohnette and Miroslav Vitous, and also his 1978 solo masterpiece Waves, Conspiracy doesn’t quite reach their standard (and he could occasionally do with a melodic foil of Jan Garbarek or Palle Mikkelborg’s calibre), but it’s still probably his strongest album since 1989’s The Singles Collection.

Clocking in at just 35 minutes, it’s also surely one of ECM’s briefest albums – an interesting aspect in itself.

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