Terje Rypdal - Bleak House album review

The spark of Nordic genius starts here

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When Norwegian psych-pop combo The Dream folded after the release of their sole 1967 album – reputedly a favourite of Jimi Hendrix’s, trivia fans – the band’s 20-year-old guitarist, Terje Rypdal, persuaded the powers that be at the Polydor label to let him record a solo album.

Nearly 50 years on and newly reissued on superb-sounding vinyl via Oslo record shop Big Dipper’s own label Round 2, Bleak House is a fascinating showreel of a player at something of a crossroads in 1968. At times, it’s like he can’t quite make up his mind which direction he should follow. Dead Man’s Tale, featuring Christian Reim’s groovy Hammond organ and Rypdal taking lead vocals about a spooky encounter, shows he’s not entirely done with his life as a nascent pop star. After all, he’d made a good career initially knocking off Hank Marvin licks in his early days and, a little while later, blowing wild with Hendrix covers. Keen to prove his wider marketability, he even tries his hand ata bit of Jobim-style mellowness on A Feeling Of Harmony, gently scat singing over a lilting acoustic guitar.

Clearly, Rypdal could have continued down the pop or rock route but the promise of greater freedoms and challenges suggested by jazz exerted its pull and he turns in two numbers backed by an impressively swinging big band. The title track mines a bluesy seam that’s blessed with some full-throated tenor sax from Jan Garbarek. However, clues to Rypdal’s future are discernible through Winter Serenade’s impressionistic squall, and Sonority’s gracious poise. Setting Rypdal amid Jon Christensen’s glancing cymbals and stirring swells of brass, it’s still a leap from here to his 1971 selftitled ECM debut, but that glimmering tone and the spacious deployment of yearning, telling notes are clearly beginning to materialise. With the maestro of Nordic melancholia turning 70 this year, visiting Bleak House, where it all began, is worth the journey.