Rockin’ All Over The World — #8
Vikings, fjords, Slartibartfast, and homesick parrots. Such are the images springing to mind when Norway comes up in conversation. But did you know it has a reigning King and a conservative female Prime Minister? That the Norse people invented Thor before Marvel comics? Most of the population of over five million are fans of Black Metal? That Norway has an impressive roster of jazz musicians? Read on to discover more about these fascinating Norwegian factoids*. Or at least a little bit about the last.
First we must travel back in time, not to the land of ice and mists, but to Melbourne, Australia, as the seventies stuttered into the eighties. My friend Michael, a guitarist of considerable skill and versatility, introduced me to the music of Terje Rypdal via a homemade cassette.
‘He’s on the ECM label,’ Michael said, and I nodded knowingly even though my entire ECM collection consisted, at that point in time, of one Chick Corea album, another by Pat Metheny, and The Köln Concert (also on cassette). But even that small acquaintance was enough to have me warmed up to what Mr Rypdal might offer.
What came out of my shoebox-sized speakers was a series of haunting guitar jazz compositions that were not like any other jazz I’d heard at that point. Ringing yet with echoes of distance, sharp but cloudy like frozen breath, Rypdal’s music was entrancing. When I came across a copy of his 1975 double album Odyssey in a Pet Sounds sale, I was very pleased indeed.
That’s the copy I’m playing now, and it still captivates with sparse, drifting, yet guided pieces that leave lots of space for both instrumentalists and listener. Here there is a sparse yet intense organ solo, a level of distortion evoking Hendrix more than Jimmy Smith. Elsewhere a trombone features—sounding much more like a flugelhorn than something in an early Louis Armstrong band. The bass playing has vibrancy and even a hint of funk in places, while over the whole broad canvas washes the electric guitar of Terje, guiding rather than commanding, hinting not instructing.
“Darkness Falls” is the opening piece, though “Darkness Calls” would fit better. The echo on the guitar and the sense of space (that phrase again) seem to invite us to enter Rypdal’s landscape of stillness and ices capes. The sixteen minute “Midnite” continues the tone, chilly yet engaging canvases across which the soloists wander. This long piece has a loping, almost Sly & The Family Stone bass line that carries us through black and white vistas…
There is a lot of music across the four sides of Odyssey and not all of it is chilly pastoralism. “Over Birkenrot” works up a forceful jazz-rock wind—Jimi Hendrix meets Bill Frisell—and though none of it will have you reaching for your bukkehorn to play along, there is plenty of cool Scandinavian jazz-psychedelia in these grooves. Get cosy and enjoy the trip.
The temptation to feature Norway’s best known jazz musician—reed player Jan Garbarek—was strong. But instead I want to share another guitarist who is also jazz-related, Elvind Aarset.
I knew nothing about Mr Aarset until I listened to Électronique Noire (1998) and afterwards filed him at the very beginning of the jazz section, a moment of satisfaction for all those carrying the Librarian gene. Musically, I was impressed with the combination of jazz sensibilities (very much in the ECM style) and the modern percussion/rhythm section.
Aarset is no callow youth (he was born in 1961, compared to Rypdal’s 1947, so could hardly be Terje’s musical child) but the sense of the music flowing forwards is striking when one listens to this captivating pair of not-really-jazz albums.**
This intriguing and adventurous CD could be an access point for someone who loved St Germain but wanted more bite and less squishy-couch smoothness. Elvind AA wrote or co-wrote most of the music and, according to the liner notes, “performs all guitars: straight, treated, e-bowed, looped, ugly and pretty.”
Opening track “Dark Moisture” leads with a tense percussive base and the kind of melody that would meld perfectly with a Scandy thriller where the mutilated naked body of a former Olympic skier-turned-politician is found in a schnapps distillery. Trumpeter Nils Petter Molvær has the dominant solo; Miles Davis locked in a cold-store with a two-bar radiator. After almost eight minutes, some growly bass barks segue into swirling wisps of synth and treated guitar… the ‘noire’ of the title certainly reflects a filmic aspect to the music. But it sure ain’t all electronica-meets-jazz laid-backery. “Wake-up call” rocks its hairy arse off—more metal than modal—while “Spooky Danish Waltz” is indeed a woozy triple time melody…with a deliciously filthy guitar solo outro.
I love Elvind Aarset’s debut album. The guitar contortions, treated drums and restrained force of the music means you wouldn’t play this at dinner any more than you’d watch that crime thriller about a cannibalistic faith healer while munching Atlantic salmon. But the energy, invention and commitment leap out of the speakers through the entire hour of the well-named Électronique Noire.
Rypdal and Aarset. Ice steams.
Many thanks to the person(s) unknown who visited Vinyl Connection in sufficient numbers to make this ROCKIN’ ALL OVER THE WORLD post possible.
* Some of which are verifiable, and others of which could reasonably be described as alternative facts.
** Anyone wanting more future-jazz should check out Norwegian trumpeter Nils Petter Molvær, with whom Elvind Aarset has worked.