TERJE RYPDAL — Conspiracy (review)

TERJE RYPDAL — Conspiracy album cover Album · 2020 · Fusion Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
Steve Wyzard
COMEBACK OR FINAL THOUGHTS?

For those of us who can never get enough of albums like What Comes After, Odyssey, and Chaser, this album came as a HUGE surprise. For the past 20 years, Terje Rypdal has entirely devoted himself to classical composition and experimental collaborations, as opposed to the fusion performances that saddled him with the sobriquet, "the Jimi Hendrix of Norway". Without warning, we are suddenly graced with a retro/throwback album called Conspiracy.

With Stale Storlokken on keyboards, Endre Hareide Hallre on basses, and Pal Thowsen on drums/percussion, Rypdal's worldwide fan-base can be forgiven for thinking this is an outtakes album from the late-1970s or early-1980s. All of the classic trademarks are here: the soaring, ascending, infinitely-sustained guitar tones, dreamy pre-digital organ textures, busy bass/drums, thunderous dirges, and a general howling, wind-driven sub-Arctic atmosphere.

Composed entirely by Rypdal, he never dominates the material and everybody receives a chance to show their stuff. Three tracks in particular deserve comment. "By His Lonesome" is an ethereal backdrop for a Hallre bass solo: Rypdal doesn't even enter until almost the 2-minute mark. "Baby Beautiful" (the longest track at 8:01) opens with tinkling tuned percussion before Thowsen (who longtime ECM listeners will remember from Arild Andersen's quartet in the 1970s) sets up a rhythmic pattern for the solos to follow. The album closer "Dawn" begins with a very low rumble, as if a huge double bass section is playing in the distance, before dissolving into guitar effects and then vanishing.

Recorded in Oslo in February 2019, the immediate initial reaction to Conspiracy regards its length: 35:04. We've come a long way from the mid-1990s where everybody felt it was obligatory to issue 65-minute albums. Now that the LP has returned to the mainstream, shorter albums are once again back in fashion, but at what cost? Rypdal is now in his 70s: the cynical are likely to dismiss this as just a cash-grab to help with inevitable healthcare costs. Some would suggest this is an exercise in nostalgia, perhaps an aural last-will-and-testament. When there is such a deep, accessible back-catalog (even tribute albums), one might be tempted to say, "Not bad, just not much." Conspiracy neither greatly adds to nor subtracts from Rypdal's recorded legacy, but is rather an excellent quick reminder of just what he did so uniquely well.
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