Review: Rypdal and Mikkelborg in Norway

Michael Tucker enjoys a poorly attended concert in Oslo by the Norwegian rock-jazz guitarist and Danish trumpeter and advises future audiences not to be so dilatory

Situated by the fjord at Sandvika, just west of Oslo and a couple of kilometres or so from the famous Hennie-Onstad Art Centre,  Baerum's culture house has long featured a full and adventurous cross-genre programme. The night before this superb concert I was able to hear Kremerata Baltica (the highly regarded ensemble of young classical string players from the Baltic countries, founded and led by Gidon Kremer) inject a moving piece of post-minimalist contemporary meditation by Peteris Vasks into a fine programme of Bach, Haydn and Mozart concertos, interpreted by leading Russian pianist Mikhail Pletnev. The music was superb, yet the house was at best one-third full. What, I wondered, would be the turn-out for jazz-rock legends Rypdal and Mikkelborg, accompanied by Rypdal's son Marius on laptop, electronics and percussion?

In the event, around 80 or so lucky – and very appreciative – customers found themselves sitting onstage, some 15 feet or so from the musicians, with the stage curtain drawn behind them to blank out what would otherwise have been an embarrassingly empty hall. It's beyond me why so few chose to come out and enjoy some of the best music I've heard in many a month, if not year. The continuous hour-and-a-half performance featured a dynamically diverse, albeit often searing mix of classic material from Rypdal's work on ECM, such as the Seasons piece recorded in the late-1970s with Miroslav Vitous and Jack DeJohnette, Hidden Chapter from the Vossabrygg live performance released by ECM in 2006, and plenty of the sort of improvised blend of the intimate and the epic which characterised the work of Rypdal and Mikkelborg on drummer Paolo Vinaccia's surpassing six-CD live set Very Much Alive, released by Jazzland in 2010.

George Russell once explained to Mikkelborg why he featured him so much in his band, which was full of fine American players, by saying that he loved the fact that the Danish trumpeter had both the patience and the courage to play a note and then wait for the echo of that note both to create and to fill space, before developing ideas and phrases. Many a mile from any chops-driven bebop, Mikkelborg and Rypdal built continuously on the spacious, often modally based understanding they have shared from the late-1960s onwards. Conjured by foot pedal and tremolo bar, as well as some hand rapping on the guitar body, Rypdal’s heavy-duty sound-sculpting and keening melodicism were first enfolded by Mikkelborg's breathy lyricism on either trumpet or flugelhorn (plus occasional, ultra-contained colour from him on keyboards), then sent soaring over the inventive mix of trip-hop rhythm, ambient percussion and variegated samples (at times late-Mahleresque in nature) supplied by the excellent Marius Rypdal.

"He's blossoming all the time," said Rypdal senior afterwards, justly proud of his son’s increasingly distinctive mixing of matters of colour, rhythm and texture. Back to good health after a long period suffering from persistent hip and ankle problems, the guitarist plans to focus on developing the touring schedule for this trio in the near future. Don't miss them!

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