Arild Andersen: Hyperborean (ECM 1631)


Arild Andersen

Tore Brunborg soprano and tenor saxophones
Bendik Hofseth tenor saxophone
Kenneth Knudsen keyboards
Arild Andersen double-bass
Paolo Vinaccia drums, percussion
Cikada String Quartet
Odd Hannisdal violin
Henrik Hannisdal violin
Marek Konstantynowicz viola
Morten Hannisdal cello
Recorded December 1996 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

“What was I to do when I saw him soar through the air in broad daylight and walk on water and go through fire slowly in foot?”

If you think the title of Hyperborean sounds enchanting, wait until you hear the music. Arild Andersen’s evocation of the Greek mythological race plies the shimmering backdrop from which its thread comes unraveling and weaves an entirely new one in its place. Like the chariot of Apollo, who rides to the north three months out of the year to join the Hyperboreans, it marks the sky with seasonal precision. Such is the backstory of this 1995 Norwegian Molde Festival commission, which sought a large-scale suite from the bassist. Andersen took the opportunity to expand his sound, writing for string quartet for the first time. After the success of the concert, Andersen returned to the material and appended “Patch Of Light,” which introduces the album. Andersen: “In general, the role of the strings in the music was strengthened and improved by Manfred Eicher’s input. He had a lot to add in terms of phrasing, dynamics and emphasis, and in the relationship of the string writing to the jazz improvising in the mix.” Eicher’s fingerprints are apparent every step of the way and represent a particularly successful marriage of engineering, behind-the-scenes thought, and performance. He also brought in the Cikada String Quartet for the first of many label collaborations. Saxophonists Tore Brunborg (longtime member of Andersen’s Masqualero outfit) and Bendik Hofseth (who appeared on his earlier Sagn) make for an organic counterpoint of styles. Italian-born but Oslo-based drummer Paolo Vinaccia, who replaced Nana Vasconcelos in Andersen’s “folk” group in 1993, has also made notable appearances on Terje Rypdal’s Q.E.D. and Skywards. Danish pianist Kenneth Knudsen is a longtime friend of Andersen and draws on his background both with Miles Davis and Palle Mikkelborg.

“Patch Of Light” is indeed a thread, a hand-span of strings that exposes its core as would a Gavin Bryars chamber work. Welcoming the night as if it were its own body, it sheds starlight in place of skin. So it is with the title track, which draws finer alloys from these beginnings and holds them like tuning forks to Andersen’s bass, which though contemplative brings meteoric streaks of implicit fervor. Meanwhile, Vinaccia’s delicate patter is the tick of a train whose tracks are laid by the art of soliloquy. And just when you think this landscape might not be populated, in strides “Duke Vinaccia” with saxophonic servants in tow. The heights are stratospheric, yet we feel them in the gut, hanging from the jungle gyms of our rib cages like children. Pianistic echoes from Knudsen, microtonal and gentle, blow off the foam of life’s new quaff before sipping the ale beneath. “Infinite Distance” is a more upbeat affair, delightfully syncopated and brimming with soul from tenor, a robust link in a minimal chain of solos. “Vanishing Waltz” evokes a fadeout into the distance, as if it were the train of the Duke’s procession, a band of merry subjects floating into the sunset. The plush beginnings of “The Island” cradle a heavy tenderness from Andersen, whose instrument has by now become a cognizant body. Trembling and untouched, it bids us to listen to its “Invisible Sideman,” to see things through a translucent veil in the window, billowing to the rhythm of dreams. “Rambler” is Hofseth’s purview. Quivering with lovely agitation and tunefulness (one may feel tempted to compare him to Garbarek, but we find here a more restless brilliance), it dances among Vinaccia’s pincushioned plains. These curves continue their journey in “Dragon Dance” and on through to “Stillness,” where we get the album’s most soulful saxophonism. Last is the heartfelt “Too Late For A Picture,” a forlorn and credit sequence, an epilogue for the ends of the earth.

The strings are our ever-present reminder of peace, rungs on a ladder of light that must be scaled and descended simultaneously to reach any sort of destination. The prevalence of space and “unbeing” names Hyperborean as an intangible reality where perhaps all music begins and ends. Like a jellyfish, it needs ocean to express its proper shape. And what better place to swim than in our hearts?

(Incidentally, since making this record, Andersen formed a trio with Brunborg and Vinaccia improvising on this album’s material. You can see my review of the latest incarnation of that trio, with Tommy Smith in place of Brunborg, here.)

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