Terje Rypdal ‘Conspiracy’ LP/CD (ECM) 5/5

Electric guitarist Terje Rypdal first came to ECM as a member of Jan Garbarek’s quartet on “Afric Pepperbird” in 1970. That album still sounds as fresh and innovative today as it did fifty years ago. I remember when I first heard it, thinking ‘who is that guitarist… I really like that.” Having spent the last few decades delving into the many albums recorded by Rypdal, from the remarkable classic “Bleak House” in the guitarist’s pre-ECM days, and through his career-defining, multi-faceted ECM years on inspirational albums such as “Whenever I Seem To Be Far Away”, “Odyssey” and “Waves”, one thing remains constant; his unwavering originality and pursuance to fulfil the potential of his instrument with both a rock improviser’s love of raw energy and a composer’s feeling for space and the endless textural colours of sound that are imaginable to him.

“Conspiracy” was recorded at Oslo’s Rainbow Studio, and let’s be honest, it is somewhat unimaginable that it would have been recorded anywhere else given the fact that it is actually the guitarist’s first new ECM studio album in two decades. His other recent recordings have drawn upon live sources. The clarity and depth of this new production is mouthwatering. The panoramic sweep of the music combined with the performances throughout the entire session make me feel a little nostalgic, and extremely satisfied with the brilliance of the music I’m listening to.

Rypdal’s current ensemble is undoubtedly one of his best. They are key to the overall sound, and put alongside an inspired Rypdal, create some of the best music I’ve ever heard from the guitarist. Keyboardist Stale Storlokken, who contributed to “Vossabrygg” and “Crime Scene” and was also a member of Rypdal’s Skywards group, is an ideal co-conspirator, perpetually thickening the plot with his own inventive feeling for complimentary shades and washes. The sound of the Hammond organ blending into and surrounding Rypdal’s Fender Strat works incredibly well. This album also marks a welcome return for Pal Thowsen, who’s detailed drumming was first heard on ECM with Arild Andersen’s groups of the 70s. As soon as this album begins, there’s an immediacy and excitement created by Thowsen’s drumming which captures the spirit of everything that is to follow. The Conspiracy band is completed by the incredibly gifted young bass guitarist Endre Hereide Hallre. What’s refreshing about this session is how well the bassist seems to fit in so comfortably, with Rypdal allowing plenty of time and space for the bassist to shine, especially on the piece “By His Lonesome”.

The compositions on “Conspiracy” are all brand new. Some were played for the first time in the studio, including the final soundscape “Dawn” which shares its title with an unrelated “Odyssey” piece; aptly making this a new dawn for the guitarist. “As If The Ghost…Was Me” introduces this new recording in style, gradually building until gravity breaks and Rypdal takes us into a new ‘Stratosphere’… “What Was I Thinking” is a ballad that combines emotive feeling with experimental flare. The title track is perhaps the strongest ‘rock’ piece on the album, with the quartet letting loose. The glorious “Baby Beautiful” highlights the band as a whole, with Rypdal’s squalling guitar the obvious highlight.

Be assured, there is no conspiracy here, it’s just great to hear an inspired Terje Rypdal back to his best, doing what he does so well and giving us an album that more than does justice to his incredible career and long-standing partnership with the ECM label. Keep on rockin’ Terje… keep on rockin’.

Mike Gates