Andersen/Vinaccia/Smith: Mira (ECM 2307)

Mira

Andersen/Vinaccia/Smith
Mira

Arild Andersen double bass, electronics
Paolo Vinaccia drums
Tommy Smith tenor saxophone, shakuhachi
Recorded December 2012 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Bassist Arild Andersen, saxophonist Tommy Smith, and drummer Paolo Vinaccia are a rare trio not only in instrumentation, but also in the three-dimensionality of their interactions. Their debut album, Live At Belleville was a masterstroke of prowess and finesse, and introduced a band of such integrity that its messages were impossible to misunderstand. Now cloaked in the mystery of the recording studio—behind the doors of which magic is spun, spliced, and re-spun—these veteran collaborators deflect any expectations of sunlight in favor of a crepuscular palette.

Andersen Trio

Andersen again claims a majority of writing credits. Each tune is a different crater in the dark side of his moon. From first (“Bygone”) to last (“Stevtone”), his themes enable the framing and anchorage of a world far bigger than the sum of its parts. The former swings with a nocturnal air. It is a song in a windowless room, where moonlight remains but a dream and the crosshatching of people and cars below seems as far away as the stars above. Smith is the melodic body, while Andersen and Vinaccia stretch like shadows in streetlights. The latter track eases into its electronic drone by way of Smith’s inventive colorations, which seem to pull at invisible threads with mounting curiosity and inquisitiveness. Through a glacial exchange of places, Andersen takes the helm, following Vinaccia’s barest cymbals like a compass.

“Reparate” makes further use of Andersen’s electronics in much the same manner as his earlier Hyperborean. Over this distinctive blur of voices, Andersen explores the sensitivity behind his muscle. As if introducing a documentary that is about nothing but its own becoming, Smith picks up the thread and pulls it in leaps of intuition from sharp to rounded. Likewise balanced are the denser constructions of “Rossetti,” “Le Saleya,” and “Eight and More.” Whether hitching a rope between thematic vessel and port or soloing over Vinaccia’s rolling thunder, Andersen opens the eye of every needle, so that the drummer might find a way through. The mutual understanding here us as clear as the tune “Blussy” is smoky. Smith adds a slick edge to it all, but with a genuine roughness that gives eye-squinting traction to every turn.

Smith contributes “Kangiten,” a soaring and meditative shakuhachi solo which, despite its brevity, introduces an overtly spiritual band to the album’s spectrum (the title is a Japanese term for the elephant-headed Ganesh of the Hindu pantheon). Smith plays the bamboo flute again on “Raijin” (also Japanese, meaning “god of thunder”) in a ritualistic duet with Vinaccia that recalls Guo Yue and Joji Hirota’s kindred collaborations. Andersen’s title track returns us to the combination of strength and style that is his forte, his tone so full that background feels as present as foreground. Even the trio’s take on Burt Bacharach’s “Alfie” forges new alloy through the same admixture.

I wouldn’t hesitate to call Mira a profound leap forward for this trio, were it not for the simple fact of its falling inward. Not only is it a master class in harmony; it is an instructive example of self-assessment in the life of a musician whose best work may be yet to come.

(To hear samples of Mira, click here.)

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