Terje Rypdal’s ambitious album contains the 45-minute “Melodic Warrior” and the 27-minute “And the Sky Was Coloured With Waterfalls and Angels.” The first, recorded in 2003, is a collaboration with the Hilliard Ensemble and the Bruckner Orchester Linz of Austria. The second was recorded live in 2009 at the Jazztopad Festival in Wrocław, Poland, with the Wrocław Philharmonic Orchestra.
Rypdal uses the Hilliard Ensemble even more creatively than Jan Garbarek, whose Officium recordings of the late 1990s were huge critical and commercial successes. He weaves their four voices deep in the mix, or lets them soar free of it. Over the nine movements of “Melodic Warrior,” the mix is all. Slowly evolving densities require close attention from the listener, in order to perceive and follow the inner details.
The piece was inspired by Native American poetry. The Hilliard Ensemble sings texts from Chippewa and Navajo sources. The soundscape is vast as the American plains. Diverse sonorities gather to loom like mountains. The most riveting sound is Rypdal’s guitar, but he chooses his moments. On “Magician Song,” out of the huge murmuring orchestra, his guitar emerges to cry a melody. It is immediately overwhelmed by strings and woodwinds, and breaks through again only as a quick flash of light on the next and final movement, “The Morning Star.”
The Wrocław piece, beautifully recorded, was inspired by the Cannes International Fireworks Festival, but it is rarely explosive. It is brooding and dark, engulfing as night. There are four movements (“Waterfalls 1-4”). In the first two, within the blackness, motifs recur as glimmers and glistenings. Then, on “Waterfalls 3,” a whispering of strings contains a call, and the call grows louder, over pounding timpani. “Waterfalls 4” is seething water and it is exhilarating at the end when Rypdal’s guitar is launched out of it, wildly keening, flying above the falls.
Melodic Warrior is some of the most powerful, haunting music Rypdal has ever made.