The Odyssey, In Studio & in Concert box gathers together two sessions Terje Rypdal recorded as a leader in 1975/6, an expanded version of his ECM landmark Odyssey, and a previously unreleased orchestral set.
Odyssey is a real beauty, a landmark jazz/rock fusion album which is yet neither really progressive rock nor jazz fusion, being too cool and restrained to be accommodated comfortably by either genre.
It was released in 1975, the year of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here and Miles Davis’ Agharta. If the influence of Mies Davis’ electric bands of the time is palpable, Rypdal’s compositional method is more focused and spacious. Anyone who enjoys both “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” and “He Loved Him Madly”, however, should definitely pay attention.
With the album now split across two discs, the first is all percussion pulse and bass ostinatos superimposed with rubato guitar fx and organ swells or plangent trombone solos. Rypdal solos at length, alternating fluid whammy bar meditations with arpeggios. The effect is hypnotic, by turns hazy, lulling and immersive and insidiously stimulating.
The second disc has more aggressive inturludes, notably the stabbing, bass-led “Over Birkerot” and the previously unissued “Rolling Stone”, a 23.5 minute slow-burner that ‘s closer to conventional fusion yet also anticipates the orchestral collaborations that Rypdal would begin to explore the following year on Unfinished Highballs. Apparently a minor hit in Germany and an often-bootlegged live favourite, this is the first time the studio recording of “Rolling Stone” has been commercially made available.
The personnel on Odyssey is: Rypdal, guitar, synthesizer, and soprano saxophone; Brynjulf Blix, organ; Torbjørn Sunde, trombone; Sveinung Hovensjø, electric bass; and Svein Christensen , drums.
On Unfinished Highballs the Odyssey band minus Blix is augmented by the Swedish Radio group, a fifteen-piece ensemble which comprises eleven brass and reeds players, two double bassists, drums/percussion, and Bengt Hallberg’s celeste, harpsichord, and/or mellotron.
The 68 minutes of Unfinished Highballs initially seems more interesting than it is enjoyable. The orchestration is rather opaque, though the lack of clarity disguises some interesting ensemble charts. Sveinung Hovensjo’s electric bass works hard to enliven proceedings (witness “Dawn”), and Rypdal’s guitar routinely attempts to soar free. Hallberg, on celeste and mellotron, who insinuates some deft chromatic touches, is more successful, and the dramatic contours of “Talking Back” sound something like a more evidently tightly-drilled Sun Ra Arkestra.
In the notes that accompany the set, Rypdal says: “I didn’t really know how to write for big bands,so I just wrote for a band with more instruments … more like an orchestra.” He constructs the music in shifting blocks of sound, occasionally enlivened by jazzy flourishes that allow solo voices to emerge.
On the spacious, cinematically jazzy “Dine and Dance to the Music of the Waves”, Rypdal plays wiry acoustic guitar and (unless it’s the Jazz Group’s Lennart Åberg) also some peppy soprano sax. The final soaring-on-thermals guitar solo that dominates “Bright Lights-Big City” is a clear highlight.
Essential it isn’t, then, but Unfinished Highballs is a far more substantial offering than the usual salvage from unreleased archives, and alongside “Rolling Stone” it makes this expanded issue of Odyssey one of the more commendable entries in the ‘white box’ ECM reissue series.