Recorded live at Bergen’s Natjazz Festival in May 2009, “Crime Scene” is a powerful and exciting addition to Terje Rypdal’s ECM discography. Although the Norwegian guitarist/composer has written often for orchestras or chamber ensembles – see, for instance, his “Undisonus”, “Q.E.D.”, “Double Concerto” and “Lux Aeterna” recordings – collaborations with jazz big band have less frequent.
Invited to write music for the Bergen Big Band, however, Rypdal was intrigued firstly to find that the two of the ensemble’s sax players and also conductor/flutist Olav Dale doubled on bass clarinet: “Three bass clarinets! That straight away offers unusual sound-colour and textural possibilities for a composer”. He was also impressed to learn that the Bergen musicians had just issued an album of variations on John Coltrane’s “Meditations” (“Meditations on Coltrane”, Grappa Records, 2007), a progressive choice for jazz big band. Late period Coltrane, and “Meditations” in particular, had been one of Rypdal’s own entry points into jazz improvising in the 1960s (“the music spoke to me much more directly than bebop did”) and he was pleased to revisit this formative influence in his composition.
Thus, where the “Vossabrygg” album (recorded 2003, released 2006) was in part a tribute to the Miles Davis of “Bitches Brew”, the plot of “Crime Scene” incorporates its salutes to Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders and the ecstatic glossolalia of their saxophones. Rypdal’s writing for the horns and reeds sends the horns and reeds into the overtone range for long stretches. The Bergen musicians respond to the challenge with real commitment.
A Rypdal small group – his partners Ståle Storløkken and Paolo Vinaccia from the Skywards trio plus old comrade Palle Mikelborg – are flanked by the massed Bergen players, conducted by Olav Dale, in a quasi concerto grosso format, a band inside a bigger band. There is passionate playing both at the centre and on the edges of the music and periodic bursts of flat-out rock jamming by Rypdal and his team, including incendiary exchanges between Terje and Storløkken, the latter perhaps best known for his contributions to noise/electro/improv band Supersilent. When the smoke clears, Mikkelborg and Rypdal evoke the spatial/textural skyscapes of their early collaborations (“Waves”, “Descendre”); a good deal of Rypdal’s musical history is referenced here.
The shards of film and radio-play dialogue scattered through the album, collected and collaged by Paolo Vinaccia, add a Noir-ish flair to the work, prompting Rypdal to add crime procedural titles to the music’s individual movements, though he stresses that connections between the subheadings and the music can only be loosely interpreted.
The Bergen premiere of “Crime Scene” was very well-received by the media. US webzine Allboutjazz compared Rypdal’s use of texture and sound colour to György Ligeti’s, and also observed, that “as fine a piece as ‘Vossabrygg’ was, Crime Scene surpassed it in scope and performance.”
In Norway, NRK Radio’s review noted that “Rypdal evokes outrageously exciting sounds from the big band set up. The hour-long piece is structured freedom. The tenorists Ole Jakob Hystad and Zontan Vinczes echo sixties Coltrane. And seventies-jazz rock is evoked when Palle Mikkelborg attacks. Through the pieces boil sound sequences from dramatic crime- and mafia flicks. On top soars Rypdal´s ecstatic guitar playing – we have in fact never heard him better."
The artistic and public success of the Rypdal/Bergen Big Band combination has encouraged the participants to seek new opportunities to take the collaboration further. They will be performing the “Crime Scene” music at several major festivals in the months ahead, including Balejazz in Norway (May 7), and the Moers New Jazz Festival in Germany (May 21).