Since his earliest solo recordings on ECM, composer and guitarist Terje Rypdal has been a musical shapeshifter, equally comfortable in the genres of modern jazz, contemporary classical, and even rock, integrating them seamlessly whenever he felt it necessary. Recorded in 2003, Melodic Warrior is a 45-minute tone poem performed by the guitarist with the Hilliard Ensemble (who commissioned it) and the Bruckner Orchester Linz conducted by Dennis Russell Davies. It provides limpid vocal settings of Chippewa, Navajo, Pima, and Papago texts, adorned by widely varying orchestral textures and embellished by Rypdal's electric guitar, which alternately, swoops, soars, hums, roils, and crackles in concert with, and in contrast to, both the Hilliards and the orchestra. The composer found in these Native American sources a view of the natural world that mirrored his own. Rypdal's sonic universe here embodies tensions, dissonances, and lyric harmonic considerations that make the sung texts not merely ghostly echoes from a different time and way of life, but instead an aural portrait of a cosmology where nature is the face of the eternal, and man is the participant and witness. It can be heard in the languid meld of the group's singing, and in the spare melodic guitar atop restrained brass, winds, and strings in "Easy Now." Rypdal charts it in the staggered vocal interplay that approaches polyphony in the glorious "Secret File," which moves along a harmonic line that openly engages dissonance in the latter half. It is expressed in even more dramatic tones in the nearly cinematic "My Music Reaches the Sky," where Rypdal plays roiling themes that evoke the old West with rockist intensity atop galloping strings and bleating, lower brass instruments. Balance and an understated grandeur are offered in the glorious "Magician Song," where we hear traces of Glass, Delius, and even Scelsi in the orchestra amid the deeply moving evocations of the text in the Hilliard's fluid harmony. As a whole, this 45-minute composition is among the most transcendent in Rypdal's oeuvre. Its companion is And the Sky Was Colored with Waterfalls and Angels, a five-part work performed by Rypdal with the Wroclaw Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Sebastian Perlowski. It was recorded live at the Jazztopad Festival in 2009. It is much more compressed and internally focused than its predecessor, and evokes the direct inspiration of Penderecki and Ligeti. Its sections are comprised of densely colored tonal clusters that speculatively dialogue with rumbling percussion, often-explosive brass, and restrained but ever-present ambiences from winds and strings. In sections, Rypdal's guitar playing alternates between lyric suggestion and turbulent improvisation. While it may be convenient to label this album "classical crossover," it would be a disservice. Melodic Warrior offers two distinct aspects of Rypdal's vision, and they prove to be challenging 21st century works that reference history both cultural and musical, yet point toward an exploratory and holistic horizon.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek
|And The Sky Was Coloured With Waterfalls And Angels|