Arild Andersen: Green In Blue – Early Quartets (ECM 2143-45)

Green In Blue

Arild Andersen
Green In Blue: Early Quartets

Arild Andersen double-bass
Jon Balke piano
Knut Riisnaes tenor and soprano saxophones, flute
Pål Thowsen drums
Juhani Aaltonen tenor and soprano saxophones, flutes, percussion
Lars Jansson piano, Moog-synthesizer, string ensemble

I used to hear jazz through a diurnal lens: it was either night or day. I saw this reflected in many album covers, which could be bright (Milt Jackson’s Sunflower comes to mind) or deeply nocturnal (which pegs a good portion of the Blue Note catalogue). ECM has been unique in charting the in-between, those crepuscular moments of the genre in which transitions abound, and in fact define the parameters of the music. This fabulous collection of long out-of-print label efforts by Norwegian bassist Arild Andersen brings those transitions most clearly into focus. His music is firmly earthbound, yet at the same time so far beyond the stratosphere that seasons and times of day cease to matter. Such an approach allows us to come to the music as we are, absorbing it with the same spontaneity in which it is produced.

Clouds In My Head (ECM 1059)
Recorded February 1975 at Arne Bendiksen Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

“305 W 18 St” is a breath of fresh air in even the freshest climate. The title refers to the bassist’s onetime home base, a New York apartment belonging to singer Sheila Jordan (who can be heard on Steve Kuhn’s Playground). I suspect these kinds of autobiographical details lie behind almost every title, some more inferable than others. Either way, Andersen’s gravid bass line and the lilting flute of Knut Riisnaes usher us into the album’s optimistic world, setting the pace for an exemplary thematic journey. There are plenty of breathtaking stops along the way, including the piano-driven “Outhouse,” with fine soloing to be had by all over a tight rhythm section headed by Pål Thowsen on drums; the sympathetic embrace of “Song For A Sad Day,” in which Riisnaes’s bone-tickling tenor tears our inhibitions to shreds; and the uplifting promises of the title cut. Neither can we pass up “The Sword Under His Wings,” a closer to end all closers. Lightning fast fingerwork from Andersen brings a live dynamism that practically begs for applause at every given opportunity. Not to be outdone, Jon Balke shows his chops as well, intimating what would become his own flowering career beyond the band. The album’s finest sax solo sparks a flare of virtuosity, snuffed too soon. A groove-oriented aesthetic dominates Clouds, but with enough downtempo diversions to soften the blow. Each theme is a springboard to fantastic leaps of intuition. Those of Riisnaes, whose resemblance to the early Garbarek is uncanny, are the farthest-reaching, variously filled with glorious hesitations and catharses.


Original cover

Shimri (ECM 1082)
Recorded October 1976 at Talent Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

In its second outing, the Arild Andersen Quartet saw the replacement of Balke and Rissnæs with saxophonist Juhani Aaltonen (already heard to mind-blowing effect on Edward Vesala’s Nan Madol and soon to appear on Satu of the same) and pianist Lars Jansson (whose trio, of which Anders Jormin was an original member, remains one of Sweden’s great jazz outfits). Here, Andersen dons more overtly compositional clothing, and lays his heart bare. The mood is a little more relaxed, its sound more porous, its gestures more internal. Starting with some chromatic pianism and Aaltonen’s winged soprano in the title track, and working through the timeless beauties of “No Tears” and “Ways Of Days,” we encounter deeper mysteries in “Wood Song.” On the surface, its wooden flute and colorful percussion evoke an arid landscape populated by rattlesnakes and desert winds, yet on deeper inspection seeks to reveal the improvisational in the mundane. “Vaggvisa För Hanna” is a multifaceted little number that plays like Red Lanta with an added rhythm section. Tenor sax makes its triumphant return in “Dedication.” Jansson wanders into some incredibly lyrical asides, singing like Keith Jarrett (who was among his formative influences as a music student), but led back to the main path by Aaltonen every time. While it is unclear who or what this concluding track is a dedication to, I like to think it was made for the listener, whose very existence animates the creative process at hand. For as Andersen recedes, leaving Aaltonen alone, we are drawn into that final gasp of cymbals and toms like an acolyte into selflessness.


Original cover

Green Shading Into Blue (ECM 1127)
Recorded April 1978 at Talent Studio
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

The final album of this set changes gears yet again, working itself into a highly refined configuration. Jansson expands his contributions with added electronics. Their presence, subtle as it is, unpacks the music’s histories with far greater visibility. From the laid-back groove of “Sole” to the staccato backing of “Radka’s Samba,” we are treated to a colorful array of songs without words. Stories are the primary driving forces here, such that “The Guitarist” is not about the instrument but about the trembling hands that cradle it. Like an intro that never materializes into a full-blown swing, it has more than enough to sustain itself. “Anima” is another smooth joint that offers some of Andersen’s most understated brilliance. Aaltonen’s legato tenor lends an illusory impermanence. The album’s remainder is like a garden of quiet beauty. The cultivated panache of the sax-heavy “Terhi” and the “organic” backing of the title track wander into Eberhard Weber territory with every step. “Jana” closes in all the lushness this quartet has to offer in a synth-infused groove, finishing with the exuberance of Aaltonen’s soprano flourishes.


Original cover

Andersen is about as straightforward a musician as you are likely to encounter. His motivic acuity is engagingly bipolar, easily straddling funk and elegy in a single breath. His notes are powerful, sustained, and binding like glue. And in such fine company, the cumulative effects are unfathomable. Though his presence was vividly felt in a handful of early ECM releases, including Afric Pepperbird, Sart, and Triptykon, it was with these three albums that Andersen left his first inedible marks. What a joy it is to finally have them in the digital archive.

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8 thoughts on “Arild Andersen: Green In Blue – Early Quartets (ECM 2143-45)

  1. This is a marvellous release. I have missed those early Arild Andersen-albums on CD for a very long time. Especially the fantastic, lyrical “Shimri” which is one of the absolute highlight ECM-recordings ever, maybe the very best. This triad-edition is a good idea.

    What is not so good, however, is the simply white two-colour-print cover. I had expected reprints of the original beautiful colour-covers. Why not and why this? In fact this in not a lowprise edition.

    1. Dear Bengt,

      I absolutely agree. The music is fantastic, and it is sad to see Maja Weber’s vivid paintings relegated to little black-and-whites in the back of the booklet. In the end, though, I guess the sounds matter most.

      Tyran

  2. A magnificent release! Though I too agree with Bengt L. on the issue of booklet presentation—a reprint of the original covers would have made this box set a top notch reissue…

    Per chance we still have the music and, on that matter, this box set of three cds is simply amazing! I remember quite a bit the sound of the original ECM (German) pressings which I had on LP back in the 1990’s. That makes you regret the beautiful artwork, btw. However, I think ECM and Manfred Eicher have done a really good job in their resurrection of those vintage recordings (the remastering makes you hear the music as close as possible to the old German LPs—I’d say there is a slight difference but, still, it sounds much the way the beloved LPs did back then). Bravo to Mr Eicher and to the ECM team involved in the process. Musically, Clouds and Green are favourites of mine for sentimental reasons: these were the two first Arild Andersen discs I got to know.

    These three discs sounded great yesterday—and they still sound great today. A worthy reissue, imho. A minus (-) note for the ”missing” color artwork. But, hey, you can still try to download and print the original color images from the internet and then, voilà!, everything is right again…

    Jean (Canada)

  3. I’m old enough to have purchased many ECM albums in the 1970’s but for some reason Arild Andersen flew under my personal radar. Well better late than never, this is fabulous. Thanks for your review of this set, the music found here is truly glorious.

  4. Evviva, grandi notizie, tutti in piazza a festeggiare! L’ECM ha finalmente pubblicato su CD i primi album di Arild Andersen, introvabili dai tempi del vinile e, fino a ieri, contesi a caro prezzo dai collezionisti nelle aste telematiche. La preziosa ristampa, proposta in un elegante cofanetto di tre volumi, accresce lo stupore per un catalogo che non solo resiste al tempo, ma sembra migliorare con gli anni.
    CLOUDS IN MY HEAD – Dopo il proficuo tirocinio come session-man per Jan Garbarek (Sart, Afric Pepperbird, Triptykon), il contrabbassista norvegese ottiene una scrittura personale da Manfred Eicher ed esordisce con un superlativo quartetto post-coltraniano in cui, accanto a due giovani fenomeni [Pål Thowsen (batteria), Jon Balke (pianoforte)], figura il fuoriclasse di Oslo Knut Riisnæs (sax tenore/soprano, flauto). Il brillante talento di Andersen come leader e compositore si manifesta nella sublime intesa coi connazionali e nell’algida bellezza dei temi. Il repertorio alterna le atmosfere pastorali di 305 W 18 ST e Siv, condotte dal flauto di Riisnæs, alle frenetiche cadenze di Outhouse, Cycles e The Sword Under His Wings, che impongono Balke nell’élite dei pianisti europei, per poi trovare sollievo nell’assorta contemplazione di Song For A Sad Day, Last Song e Clouds In My Head.
    SHIMRI – L’organico cambia al 50% con l’ingresso dello svedese Lars Jansson (pianoforte) e del fiatista finnico Juhani Aaltonen (sax tenore/soprano, flauto), delineando un combo tutto scandinavo. La qualità della musica rimane alta, ma si accentua l’evocazione estetizzante di climi e paesaggi nordici, propria dell’etichetta tedesca. A dispetto dell’immane potenza espressiva dei singoli improvvisatori, i ritmi rallentano, per lasciare maggior respiro ai fraseggi del tenore su Shimri e Dedication, alla stupenda melodia disegnata dal soprano su No Tears, agli accenti bucolici del flauto su Ways Of Days e Vaggvisa För Hanna.
    GREEN SHADING INTO BLUE – La superba formazione di Shimri è riconfermata. Lars Jansson aggiunge al proprio arsenale un sintetizzatore, utile per rifinire gli arrangiamenti e ampliare la tavolozza timbrica, il che determina un efficace contrasto tra la modernità dei suoni e l’austera dimensione acustica del progetto. La matura unità d’intenti del collettivo si evolve privilegiando dialoghi strumentali sempre più liberi dagli spartiti (Sole, Anima, Radka’s Samba, Green Shading Into Blue, Jana).
    Con Green In Blue – Early Quartets l’ECM colma una grave lacuna discografica, ma rimangono ancora intrappolati nei solchi del Long Playing capolavori come Abercrombie Quartet di John Abercrombie, Five Years Later di Ralph Towner e John Abercrombie, Ah di Enrico Rava etc. … il recente recupero di alcuni classici di Steve Kuhn (Ecstasy, Motility, Playground) ed Eberhard Weber (Yellow Fields, Silent Feet, Little Movements), raccolti con la stessa formula editoriale (Life’s Backward Glances, Colours), lascia ben sperare per il prossimo futuro, e tuttavia … con rispetto parlando, Manfred, che stracazzo aspettate a disseppellire tutto?

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