A gem of a collection that, on original release, went some way to defining the ECM sound.
Peter Marsh 2012-07-09
Norwegian guitarist Terje Rypdal had already come a long way when Odyssey was made in 1975. A Hank Marvin-inspired rock’n’roller in the late 60s, he soon gravitated towards jazz and played with visiting American composer and theorist George Russell. Through Russell he met fellow future ECM star Jan Garbarek and joined his free-blowing first quartet, playing with an intensity that equalled Sonny Sharrock.
Rypdal's early solo records mixed a heavy Miles Davis influence with an introspective, wintry impressionism and an interest in unusual textures. By the time of Odyssey he'd already written a piece for electric guitar and string orchestra and absorbed influences from composers Ligeti and Penderecki. The music was heading towards a uniquely Nordic fusion that would help define the ECM sound.
Odyssey features a more-or-less regular band. Its music is dense, more obviously rock-influenced, with Sveinung Hovensjø's fuzzed-out electric bass often taking the lead and Svein Christiansen's drums providing a meaty but intricate pulse. Torbjørn Sunde's lyrical but muscular trombone and Brynjulf Blix's organ swirls are the foils for Rypdal's guitar, soprano saxophone and synth strings.
The Miles influence is still discernible, particularly on the brooding Midnite and Rolling Stone. But there are shades of prog, psychedelia and a foretaste of Rypdal's later atmospheric tone poems, too, in Adagio and Ballade. The string sounds are dated, but there's enough fire (and ice) present to make Odyssey worth hearing today. One has to wonder why it's taken so long for the complete original recording to be issued on CD.
The third disc makes it definitely worth the wait. Rypdal's band (minus Sunde) is joined by the 15-piece Swedish Radio Jazz Group for a suite titled Unfinished Highballs, recorded live. The arrangements, directed by Rypdal alongside SRJG bassist Georg Riedel, are unsurprisingly more "jazz" oriented, with shades of George Russell, Gil Evans and even Zappa's The Grand Wazoo.
Despite the presence of three bassists, two drummers, a mellotron and an 11-piece horn section, there's plenty of space in this recording, and the closing ballad Bright Lights – Big City must be one of the most gorgeous things Rypdal's ever done. It closes out a gem of a collection.