HIS BEST ALBUM OF THE 1980's
Many longtime Rypdal listeners pour contempt on his work from the 1980s, preferring instead to bow and worship before the altar of his 1970s albums. To this day, recordings such as What Comes After, Whenever I seem to be Far Away, Odyssey, Waves, and even After the Rain (a far inferior album) have passionately devoted cult followings. For 1985's Chaser, Rypdal opts for a simple power trio, with relatively little keyboards and no brass, woodwinds, or string orchestras. Bassist Bjorn Kjellemyr and drummer Auden Kleive would also accompany Rypdal on his next few albums, but none would have the fire, the intensity, the imagination, or the radical mood-swings of Chaser.
How can any Rypdal fan not be utterly floored by his howling, ferocious solo over a Kleive drum intro on "Ambiguity", one of his greatest recorded moments ever? Said solo suddenly staggers into rhythmic anthem rock just past the 3:10 mark before the original mood is finally resumed at the end. Turn it up to 20! Rypdal's furious, both-blues-and-jazz-influenced soloing has never been better heard or recorded. For further proof, listen to the wandering fluidity/rhythmic riffing of "Geysir" or the angular, frenzied, pseudo-soundtrack work of "Chaser".
What may rub some listeners the wrong way are the dramatic, atmospheric changes-of-pace inserted between the fiery improvising and faster-paced numbers. "Once upon a time", "A Closer Look", and "Ornen" all follow a similar pattern: slow, smoldering blues compositions that build to a guitar climax with much space for Kjellemyr and Kleive to add subtle, introspective solos. "Transition" is a brief guitar-over-keyboards piece, and "Imagi (Theme)" bids this world farewell-before-departure with tuned percussion and long-sustained tones that sound very close to guitar synth (which they very well may be, although the credits do not mention any guitar synth). In fact, this track points ahead to Rypdal's next album, 1987's Blue, which featured the same line-up but with more experimental gadgets, more keyboards, and is a much shorter and less memorable album than the austere-but-streamlined Chaser.
Many have suggested (or outright proclaimed) that Terje Rypdal is Norway's answer to Jimi Hendrix, Bill Frisell, or Steve Howe, when in actuality he is truly a category all to himself. While definitely an acquired taste, Chaser is his best album of the decade and one of his best ever. It is not a jazz album, a headbanging album, a blues album, or an experimental album, but a world of its own. Previous experience with Rypdal's playing is recommended but not necessary. I remain at a loss to understand why this set has been so maligned over the years. Maybe the backlash has more to do with the very un-ECM album cover rather than the brilliant playing and performances.