Terje Rypdal – Chaser (1985)

Terje Rypdal is a great Norwegian guitarist who has, throughout his career, brought a bit of an edge to the jazz genre, especially as it is made in northern Europe. Where most musicians signed to the infamous ECM label have a sort of meditative, blue streak, Terje Rypdal brings teeth to his guitar playing, adopting a tone more akin to hard rock and even metal at times, even though the song structures stay well within the realm of jazz. It’s this contrast that first made me feel drawn to his music, and the fact that he worked with Jan Garbarek at least once in their careers, producing the wonderful Bleak House album, in 1968, if I’m not mistaking.

Chaser is a slightly pretentious album to listen to, dabbling in many areas of music, from slightly cheesy blues progressions to down-right filthy free jazz improvisation so savage it feels more like noise than anything else. I won’t say it somehow manages to retain coherence in spite of all of this, I don’t really believe that, but it is very interesting nonetheless, and I think Terje Rypdal’s guitar playing on this record is possibly some of the most impressive I’ve ever heard him pull off. Robust, groovy, crystal clear and slicing as always, his sounds animates the entire record like a pint of life’s blood. Chaser isn’t as sophisticated as it might seem though – the tracks almost always have an easily point and are able to act self-sufficiently, well placed-on a musical vector and with such architecture as to be able to bring a great mood to the whole thing. If I didn’t know better, I’d say this album can seem to me a bit like an inspiration for Joe Satriani’s earlier work, when he wasn’t so hell-bent of shredding for the sake of it, and had the inclination to make music rather than “melt faces”, as it were.

The sound is spacious, although slightly dated, at least to the ears of someone listening to it twenty over five years after its release, and this sonic generosity is mainly supported by Terje’s guitar sound, glassy and distorted, reverberating through the songs as if they were rooms. This does a great job of counterbalancing the tight, slightly ominous rhythm section, which brings an air of urgency, of drama to the record. It’s fascinating to see how these two tendencies seem to switch around from track to track, seamlessly taking preeminence in the limelight. This slightly jarring, tense dialogue is possibly the most alluring thing about Chaser, overall, especially as it doesn’t seem to shine on individual tracks as much as it comes across by digesting the album in its entirety.

Terje Rypdal has been a favorite musician to converse about, for me, with many friends and acquaintances, throughout the years. Back in 2007, I was spending a lot of time in a used record shop in Germany, talking to the grizzled old owner and being supervised by his ever-vigilant dog named Schnulfi (I hope I spelled that right). Rypdal was on the menu more than once, as well as many other jazz greats from “way back”, as he (the owner, not the dog) used to put it. We could both agree on the fact that his older material was superior to his latest work, but I guess that’s just a harmless form of hipsteritis which tends to creep up on music fanatics like us. In any case, Chaser is my favorite of his albums, seeming a bit more clean-cut, a bit more accessible than other, more intellectualized records. There’s a feeling of flow about it, in spite of the obvious and often changes of pace and style, a sensation of fun in the making of it, relaxed, honest fun. As the years went by, I think Terje Rypdal’s work became more cryptic, more… post-modern, if you will, full of references and avidly reinterpreting structures and techniques presented by other jazz icons, in a sort-of uncompromising collage which is quite hard to digest. I relish in the tense, alternatively smooth and jagged tone Chaser brings to the table, and I recommend it, for a dose of rocked-out, highly distinctive jazz.

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