When I first started listening to “real” jazz records, they had to compete with a pile of cartoonish hair metal and new wave discs. I had always been curious about jazz, but at that point I’d done far more reading about the genre than actual listening. Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis…more concept than music to my as yet inexperienced ears.
Then a friend bought a copy of Chick Corea’s A.R.C. The explosive weirdness produced by that trio (with Barry Altshul and Dave Holland) left my jaw slack. Funny enough, my Corea experience occurred not too long before the purchase of my first Wynton Marsalis record, Hot House Flowers. So somehow I managed to get a taste of both the traditional and the modern in very close proximity.
By the time I made my way to records like Miles’ Kind of Blue and In A Silent Way, I mainly thought I had a decent handle on this thing called ‘jazz’.
Right. Then along comes Bitches Brew. No amount of press hyperbole (and there was a ton of it out there) could prepare me for that record. It’s not that it’s so out. No, it’s the odd combination of jazz, rock and deep, dark funk. I may not have understood it (whatever that means) at the time, but I did realize that something great and sort of mysterious was hidden in those grooves.
With all manner of gauzy, stretched out chords, echoing guitar and trumpet runs, sampled weirdness and insistent rhythms (from the drums, bass, keyboards and electric piano), it would not be out of line to subtitle Terje Rypdal’s Vossabrygg with “Terje Runs the Voodoo Down”.
Recorded live at Norway’s Vossa Jazz Festival, Vossabrygg does not hide the fact that Bitches Brew was its main inspiration (in fact, the title translates as “Vossa Brew”). The opening eighteen plus minutes of “Ghostdancing” harken back to Miles’ groundbreaking masterpiece (I call it that but, to be honest, I prefer In A Silent Way). What’s interesting (and perhaps not entirely coincidental) is how the rest of the recording seems to illustrate the very expansion of jazz that Davis’ “Brew” set off. Fusion (I hated to use the jazz “F-word”….sorry) indeed opened the jazz world to the possibilities of new textures, sounds and structures (or even lack of them). Vossabrygg moves beyond the mostly pure Miles tribute of “Ghostdancing” to employ some trip-hop vibes (“Hidden Chapter”), techno of sorts (“Incognito Traveller”), soundscapes (“Jungeltelegrafen”, “Key Witness”, “De Slagferdige”), and some more rock-oriented grooves (“You’re Making It Personal”).
“A Quiet World”, the closing track on Vossabrygg, reminds me of In A Silent Way, which to me foreshadowed Bitches Brew. It also showcases the best musical element of this recording: the fine, fine trumpet work of Palle Mikkelborg. Rypdal and Mikkelborg trade ideas throughout, but it is here that the trumpeter pays tribute both to Miles and Rypdal’s collective idea. Fantastic stuff.
Maybe Terje Rypdal isn’t a jazz household name. Maybe he should be. Here, a musician puts a hero in the spotlight and comes back with something completely new and fresh. Nothing good to listen to out there anymore? Sorry, this record disproves that statement. Easily.
(First posted on Mark Is Cranky).