Arild Andersen double-bass, live-electronics
Paolo Vinaccia drums
Tommy Smith tenor saxophone
Recorded September 2007 at Belleville, Oslo and Drammen Theatre
Engineers: Svyer Frøyslie and Asle Karstad
Edited and mixed June 2008 at Rainbow Studio
Produced by Arild Andersen
Hearing and seeing bassist Arild Andersen, tenorist Tommy Smith, and drummer Paolo Vinaccia will be one of the last memories to fade if and when I ever go senile. The concert was proof positive that these musicians have hit on something special and drove home the point that together they are no mere trio, but a triangle, each side as vital as the others in maintaining the shape of its overall purpose: to emote in a clear and focused way across landscapes at once ethereal and ridden with earthly histories.
The lion’s share of the set is consumed by Andersen’s four-part “Independency.” The infusions of bow taps and fluid pizzicato that open the suite betray nothing of its muscle power. Smith’s bronzed melody-making and Vinaccia’s tremors hold restrainedly yet fiercely to thematic resolve. The reedman’s no-nonsense kaleidoscope foils his increasingly entrenched bandmates with robust ingenuity. Andersen casts a multifaceted shadow across the center of all this, each string of his bass a solitary voice that lives for harmony. Smith carries much of the weight of Part 2, opening with a protracted improvisation that skirts multiphonic edges and catapults its voice across the valley stretched out before him like a royal carpet. Yet where the latter would yield to the touch of uncalloused feet, here the footprints are erratic, as much animal as human, and uninterested in the rules of dominion. Rather, its complexities lie in the simple act of giving in to the glorious potential for jazz to turn the moon like the dial of some cosmic safe and let the magic of spontaneous interpretation come spilling out as stars. Bass and drums connect on yet another level, swinging so hard that the chain wraps full circle until the inertia of Smith’s frenzy gives way to the polyglot freedom of his cohorts. Part 3 works a spell of pretty desolation. For every skyward step, it falls two inward and settles into the comfort of dreams. Part 4, though anchored only by a mid-tempo swing, actually fans the suite’s brightest flames. The band evokes every gradation of color: Smith’s free-blowing soul is the white-hot core, Andersen’s chromatic dance the outer orange and yellow, and Vinaccia the ephemeral sparks kicking the light fantastic out into ether. All the while, the tenor’s gritty squeals add shots of fuel to every indication of waning oxygen. Phenomenal.
To this magnum opus are appended three tunes. First is a flexible take on Duke Ellington’s “Prelude to a Kiss.” Like a heavy marionette, it responds to the pull of Smith’s sax to slog through alleyways of hunger, finding at last the promise of a love supreme in the singsong music of the city, of which only a screen holds the line between desolation and consummation. Vinaccia sets the mood of “Outhouse” with his distinctly bundled sound. Smith joins the theme tentatively at first, Andersen more forthcoming, before they trip into a poised, full-on groove. This skittering jive is the album’s shining beacon toward which all surrounding vessels sail with confidence. And there, on the shore, they dance like they never have before while Smith unearths mounds of treasure onto the sands. Their prized offering is “Dreamhorse,” in which Andersen’s methodical and alluring bass line invites some fast-fingered antiphony with Smith, thereby ending with a touch of the sacred in view.
Even with such a rich (and enriching) career behind him, it’s heartening to discover that in some ways Andersen is just getting started. He is, quite simply, making the best music of his life, made possible through a life of music.