Bobo Stenson piano
Arild Andersen bass
Jon Christensen percussion
Recorded May 18/19, 1971 at the Bendiksen Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher
With such a solid trio of musicians and a name like Underwear, you just know this one’s going to be good. And sure enough, Stenson kicks things off just right with the spirited title track, throughout which every instrument bubbles in a witches brew of fine flavors. Exuberant drumming, flurried bass lines, and a tightly knit sense of composition make this one of the great openers of ECM’s extensive jazz lineup. Hot on its heels is “Luberon,” the album’s requisite ballad, the placement of which both emphasizes the liveliness of the opener while also bolstering its own lyrical sensibilities. “Test” lays on a more organic sound of percussion and scraped piano strings. This delicate backdrop continues as Stenson breaks into a clearly defined melodic improvisation, prompting cries of ecstatic joy before succumbing to a forced fadeout. “Tant W.” brings us into more laid-back territory with its alluring conversation between piano and drums. Once the bass joins in, the groove becomes certifiably infectious. After this block of Stenson originals, we are treated to a pair of fine closers. Ornette Coleman’s “Untitled” runs with reckless abandon through frenzied pyrotechnics, priming us for the comforting “Rudolf” (Andersen). The latter’s fluid piano intro becomes the heart of the piece, echoing in an otherwise bass-dominant space.
Stenson is entirely on point, as if he were inborn with a finely attuned sense of melody and articulation. His playing is democratic and guides with a gentle hand, always managing to cover so much of the keyboard in a single cut. Andersen’s busy fingers provide the album’s backbone, while his gorgeous vibrato and twang-ridden charm work wonders in the softer moments. And Christensen’s drumming never fails to excite. Triply inspired soloing and a synergistic core make Underwear a prime choice for the ECM newbie and veteran alike. A simply fantastic album, this is one for the ages.