Terje Rypdal: Conspiracy


If you go to YouTube you can find the 70th birthday concert which this Norwegian master of the Fender Stratocaster played a while ago with his latest band Conspiracy (featuring a different bassist from this recording) at Victoria, The Nasjonal Jazzscene in Oslo. Lasting just under two hours, the concert contains plenty of excellent music. But to my ears, reviewers who have admired the music on the present release but regretted the playing time of just over half an hour – “if only it were twice as long” – have missed the point.

This album distills Rypdal’s special genius as few other of his ECM sessions have done since the mid-to-late 1970s masterpieces After The Rain and Descendre. In particular, the music provides some of the best evidence to date of the breadth and depth of Rypdal’s exploitation of both sonic range (sample Thinking) and poetic potentiality; his signature integration of Mahler-to-contemporary composition and genre-bending improvisation, soaring and searing adagio sound cluster and diversely inflected legato momentum.

The overarching contemplative mood is established from the first bars of Ghost, with the rocking ’n’ pumping toughness of the title track (which should appeal to Jeff Beck fans) providing adroit complementary contrast to the tender, yearning introspection and tone poem sensibilities evident elsewhere (the last epitomised by the brooding, concluding Dawn). Rypdal and Thowsen go way back together and Storløkken is also a long-time contributor to Rypdal poetics. Both perform excellently, while the stand-out surprise of the package is young new bassist Hallre on fretless and Fender Precision instruments: enjoy his patient, beautifully rounded lead figures on Lonesome and Baby.

A superb album, surely destined to become a classic of this Nordic maestro’s singularly distinctive oeuvre.

As If The Ghost … Was Me!?; What Was I Thinking; Conspiracy; By His Lonesome; Baby Beautiful; Dawn (35.04)
Rypdal (elg); Ståle Storløkken (kyb); Endre Hareide Hallre (elb); Pal Thowsen (d, pc). Oslo, February 2019.
ECM 089 5911


  1. Why does the reviewer describe Rypdal as genius and maestro? It’s obvious to anybody who knows about guitar that he’s ok, but not great. It sounds like the reviewer hasn’t really tuned into modern guitar playing. Has he ever heard any good guitarists? Rypdal’s technique and range is pretty poor on that YouTube video (the solo) and the whole thing (especially that imitation of the worse of Dave Holland’s Fender bass playing) is nostalgia for 70s jazz-rock before better players came along. Rypdal’s guitar-playing didn’t progress beyond late 60s style really, and he probably knows it – you can tell from his dire attempts to adopt some of the more virtuosic modern techniques such as Eddie Van Halen type tapping. Five stars is ridiculous when you look at the achievements of really outstanding guitarists, like Allan Holdsworth.

  2. I think it was the late Mike Zwerin who offered the insight that the holes in our Swiss cheese are someone else’s Swiss cheese. From my side of the cheeseboard it’s difficult to tell whether Peter heard Conspiracy before he proffered his view of my review or just viewed the YouTube 70th birthday concert. I pointed out in the review that the bass player (very much not to Peter’s taste) on the live gig is not the player who appears on Conspiracy.

    Like all art, jazz can be a matter of acrobatics –“now dig my chops” – rather than aesthetics. I prefer the latter. The five stars I gave Conspiracy were in response to the poetically resonant blend of soul and (appropriate) technique, composition and improvisation which distinguishes the date.

    Peter mentions Eddie van Halen (1955-2020). Rypdal was doing innovative things on his axe when van Halen was a young teenager. And he has continued to develop, to innovate, as both player and composer. In 2017 rune grammofon released Sky Music: A Tribute To Terje Rypdal. Produced by Henry Kaiser this features Kaiser along with, e.g., Bill Frisell, David Torn, Raoul Bjørkenheim and Reine Fiske. Add to that just a small number of the many outstanding figures who have worked with Rypdal over the years – say, George Russell, Jan Garbarek, Palle Mikkelborg, Ketil Bjørnstad and The Hilliard Ensemble – and you have some idea of why Peter ‘s assessment of Rypdal – “ ok but not great” – did nothing to alter my estimation of this Nordic master of tone, space and time.