Arild Andersen: In-House Science (ECM 2594)

In-House Science

Arild Andersen
In-House Science

Arild Andersen double bass
Paolo Vinaccia drums
Tommy Smith tenor saxophone
Concert recording by ORF, September 29, 2016
at PKS Villa Bad Ischl, Austria
Recording producer: Michael Radanovics
Engineer: Alios Hummer (Radio Österreich 1)
Mixing/mastering: Jan Erik Kongshaug and Arild Andersen
An ECM Production
Release date: March 23, 2018

The swirling, majestic world of bassist Arild Andersen’s trio with drummer Paolo Vinaccia and saxophonist Tommy Smith is difficult to contain, which is probably why it’s best captured in a live recording. On In-House Science, we’re treated a 2016 performance from Austria. Over the course of six Andersen originals, sensations ranging from reflection to full-blown transformation are handled with equal commitment.

What begins as a soft awakening in “Mira,” courtesy of Andersen’s sunlit tone, turns into a blinding sunrise as Smith unleashes a fiery sermon. Toward the end of the tune, a hint of uplift dies as quickly as it’s born: a signal, perhaps, to remind us that getting inside the heads of listeners is far more vital than making them nod in agreement. That being said, there’s something about the way in which these three powerful characters merge so democratically from the fog of egotistical possibilities. They follow as much as lead, take in as much as elicit, and fall into loose interpretation as much as strict. That they’re able to triangulate them so selflessly all is not only remarkable; it’s downright laboratorial. Hence the album’s title, which is split between two tracks that, together, encapsulate Andersen’s powerful ethos while also expanding its parameters. In “Science,” he and Vinaccia connect to form a Möbius strip of sonic fuse, while Smith traces its endless spark more thrillingly than the possibility of any explosion. The passionate degaussing that follows from Andersen is an album highlight, as much the exhalation to Vinaccia’s inhalation as the other way around. And while “In-House” builds on similar principles, its fluency is deepened by Smith’s growling ruptures of translation. Again, bassist and drummer turn the spotlight inside out, making sure that every particle is given a voice. This is art that fulfills the promise in compromise.

Between those two mountainous zones we get the temperate valleys of “Venice,” “North Of The North Wind,” and “Blussy.” The first is a prize fight between antiquity and modernity, Vinaccia mapping every punch and parry with his kit. The second is an ambient turn inward, its electronically sequenced bass telling a love story between land and water, and the ever-changing border of their contact. The last is a modern classic of Andersenian muscle, and gives Smith more than enough fuel to fly his rocket through the stratosphere without ever losing contact with home base.

I was brought to this album by the yesterday’s sad news of Vinaccia’s passing, for which today has been a time of solemn remembrance yet vibrant listening. May he continue to be heard.

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.)

Andersen/Vinaccia/Smith: Live At Belleville (ECM 2078)

Live At Belleville

Live At Belleville

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.

Arild Andersen w/Vassilis Tsabropoulos and John Marshall: The Triangle (ECM 1752)

The Triangle

The Triangle

Vassilis Tsabropoulos piano
Arild Andersen double-bass
John Marshall drums
Recorded January 2003 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Classical pianist and late jazz bloomer Vassilis Tsabropoulos turned heads with his ECM debut, Achirana, for which he redefined the piano trio under the leadership of bassist Arild Andersen and guidance of drummer John Marshall, both improvisers of proven stamina and invention. Whereas Tsabropoulos’s playing felt at times muddied and inattentive to negative space on that nevertheless enchanting record, this sophomore effort ushers us into a new and vibrant chapter with “Straight.” Immediately one can tell in this Tsabropoulos original that its composer has already tapped into the qualities of a fine improviser, treating his hands more like feet engaged in dance, leaping and bounding their way through turns of phrase. The transformation is obvious in the way he listens, in Andersen’s duly spirited soloing, in Marshall’s vintage sound. That feeling of metamorphosis is even more palpable in “Choral” and in “Simple Thoughts,” both rustling, leafy scenes, picturesque yet open to darkness. And in “Cinderella Song,” Tsabropoulos elicits gobs of soul from the rhythm section, carrying the night with all the resignation of one who is sure in life and in love. His development as a jazz artist manifests itself further in the album’s intertextual variety, evoking Bill Evans, Vince Guaraldi, and French impressionism in short chains of keystrokes. In the latter regard, his arrangement of Ravel’s “Pavane” proves that his architectural awareness has indeed bloomed in the four-year gap between trio albums. Here he balances guidance and recession, thinking out loud in real time before our ears and brushing away the leaves to reveal the ground in all its promises of life.

Although on paper Tsabropoulos headlined Achirana, which was irrefutably an Andersen showcase, this time the opposite holds true. Still, Andersen muscles his way through some soft territories without so much as a blemish in his wake. He contributes three tunes, rendering a puff of cloud for every patch of sky. “Saturday” invokes a proper and delicate swing and finds Tsabropoulos going for a more linear approach, which bodes well for everyone involved. There is a nostalgic, quasi-urban energy in this one that sits on the cusp of swimming and drowning, opting to jump before finding out which will prevail. “Prism” offers a velvety ballad—the album’s only in the truest sense—and sets us up for the groovier “Lines,” in which the trio hits its stride.

By far the most interesting portion of this album, however, comes in the form of “European Triangle,” an unusual group improvisation that hints at broader undercurrents begging for exploration.

This is simpatico done right.

Arild Andersen Group: Electra (ECM 1908)

Electra

Arild Andersen Group
Electra

Arve Henriksen trumpet
Eivind Aarset guitars
Paolo Vinaccia drums, percussion
Patrice Héral drums, percussion, voice
Nils Petter Molvær drum programming
Savina Yannatou vocal
Chrysanthi Douzi vocal
Elly-Marina Casdas chorus vocal
Fotini-Niki Grammenou chorus vocal
Arild Andersen double bass, drum programming
Recorded 2002/03 at home, 7. Etage in Oslo, Kæv Studio in Copenhagen, Les productions de l’érable in Montpellier and Spectrum Studio in Athens
Engineers: Reidar Skår (7. Etage), Kæv Gliemann (Kæv Studio), Christophe Héral (Les productions de l’érable), and Vangelis Katsoulis (Spectrum Studio)
Mixed by Reidar Skår at 7. Etage (tracks: 1, 10, 14, 18), Jock Loveband at Barracuda Studio (tracks: 3, 9, 11, 13, 16), and Kæv Gliemann at Kæv Studio
Produced by Arild Andersen

In the beginning was the word and the word was breath, brought to life through life, as life. This is the message written in “Birth Of The Universe,” a guiding of human expression through honed elements and air. It is a cursory introduction, nevertheless packed with voids and stardust, opening into the slow-motion formations of “Mourn,” which begin the set list proper of Arild Andersen’s Electra. Originally composed for a production of the Sophocles play directed by Yannis Margaritis at Spring Theatre in Athens, this concept album par excellence shows the Norwegian bassist at his most lyrically contemplative. Lying somewhere between the all-acoustic ruminations of Voice of Eye and the electronic infusions of Khmer, it belongs squarely beside the latter as a classic alchemy of jazz, digitalia, and less definable sources. The Khmer comparison is no coincidence, for Electra in fact borrows that groundbreaking session’s leader, Nils Petter Molvær (moonlighting here as drum programmer) and the versatile guitarist Eivind Aarset. Drummers Paolo Vinaccia and Patrice Héral cross the t’s and dot the i’s, leaving trumpeter and ECM veteran Arve Henriksen to feel his way through tight spaces and alleyways by virtue of his melodic whiskers. Completing the cast is vocalist Savina Yannatou, singing as Electra, and her Greek chorus: Elly Casdas, Chrysanthi Douzi, and Fontini Grammenou. Yannatou evokes the album’s lifeblood in the title song, which is bookended by a fluid Intro and Outro. Thus embraced by Andersen’s thematic leadership, her soliloquies form the hub of this karmic wheel.

At its most meditative moments (e.g., “The Big Lie”) Electra journeys inwardly and without judgment, while at its most extroverted (the guttural “Clytemnestra’s Entrance” and, surprisingly enough, the robust unfolding that is “Whispers”) it tears down the fourth wall and grabs the listener at point blank. Along the way, four “Choruses” dot the landscape with their walkabouts, each an atmospheric soul-search with a hermetic, percussive feel. Those beats echo in empty shells of a life aquatic, each a bead threaded by the dreadlock of a lumbering deity whose arms swing like lightning bolts slowed to the pathos of dreams. Such are the types of figures that shape-shift with every track.

Yet it is Andersen whose wayfaring leaves the most indelible footprints throughout. So profound is his drifting that the appearance of drums often feels like the storms of a distant planet, swirling in an indecipherable calligraphy. Whether laying down heady grounds against Héral’s beatboxing in the droning “Opening” or stitching the edges of “7th Background,” he pulls worlds of feeling into the crucible, which reduces every sonic ingredient into the sputtering electronic fuse of “Big Bang.” Dying like a depressed piano key, it sounds in the eco-verse.

If you love Khmer, then you’re sure to enjoy getting to know Electra. It represents Andersen the structuralist, an artist as compositionally as he is instrumentally present in a program of deep, flavorsome music with a clear sense of dramaturgical motion and a keen interest in unseen worlds.

Arild Andersen: Celebration (ECM 2259)

Celebration

Arild Andersen
Celebration

Arild Andersen double-bass
Tommy Smith tenor saxophone
Scottish National Jazz Orchestra
Tommy Smith director
Recorded live October 2010 at Stevenson Hall, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland by Mark McKellen
Edited and mixed at Rainbow Studio, Oslo, September 2011 by Jan Erik Kongshaug, Arild Andersen, Tommy Smith, and Manfred Eicher
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Since debuting on Jan Garbarek’s Afric Pepperbird in 1970, bassist Arild Andersen has been a staple of the ECM diet. Forty years in the making, Celebration pays tribute to the label that has been his home for just as long with a live “best of” recorded 2010 at Glasgow’s Royal Conservatoire. Flanked by the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra under the direction of tenorist Tommy Smith, Andersen is as much the focal point in this set of six tunes as the music itself. His role as primary soloist materialized at the behest of Smith, the two of them already well acquainted in their trio work with Paolo Vinaccia, and it was Smith’s compositional prowess that led him to propose and shape the once-in-a-lifetime performance documented here.

“May Dance,” by fellow bassist Dave Holland, comes to us by way of the 1975 classic Gateway in a thoroughly swinging take replete with sulfuric interaction. Smith grabs us from breath one and throws us into a pit of melodious fire. Andersen and drummer Alyn Cosker—a team that becomes more vital as the set goes on—throw nets of excitement into the air and catch an entomologist’s worth of specimens. Compared to his essential Green In Blue, Andersen sounds as electrifying as ever in this concerted leadoff to an album of vivacious character. Part 1 of saxophonist Jan Garbarek’s “Molde Canticle” (I Took Up The Runes, 1990) is another fitting choice—all the more appropriate for also being a celebratory commission, this in recognition of the Molde Jazz Festival’s 30th year. Andersen floats here in a harmonic abyss, switching axes in slow tension with the horns. Smith’s muscled tone is an ideal match for Garbarek material, and his leadership of the larger forces at hand elicits some visceral making of music. “Crystal Silence,” off the eponymous 1973 classic by Chick Corea, is surely the album’s best known, though here it feels like the first time. The arrangement is decidedly aquatic. It places its feet on the shore, feeling wet sand between the toes, the scuttle of horseshoe crabs beneath, and the lapping of waves on the ankles. Before long, the world is submerged, blue in blue. Andersen’s robust brushstrokes evoke schools of fish, swimming as one.

From the most to least familiar, the program changes gears with “Ulrikas Dans” by saxophonist Trygve Seim, whose big band sensibilities come through rather gloriously in this selection from his 2000 album Different Rivers. Andersen and Cosker are again the main attraction. They build Seim’s forested themes in dense pockets, evocative and sure, dropping strings and cymbals in the form of dreams. These elements render Smith’s cathartic revelation in the final stretch that much more satisfying. Andersen cannot help but include his own work, and here he selects Part 4 of his “Independency” suite from Live At Belleville with the aforementioned trio. Having first appeared on disc only in 2008, it is the most recent of the music represented here. It opens with Andersen’s bass, drawn at the touch of a bow, in an electronically enhanced echoing universe. Brass resounds like foghorns, voices in the night treading water in want of moon. This eases into some intuitive free dialoguing between Andersen and Smith, who dominate the stage with their forthrightness. Their combination of fawning glissandi and whisky expulsions spins a fuse, which Andersen and Cosker light midway through. Smith’s tenorism is the implosion. The group encores with Keith Jarrett’s “My Song” (from the eponymous 1978 album). Andersen clearly finds poignancy in its tender summation of a life lived for art. He consciously approaches his bass as the piece’s composer approaches the keyboard, his fingers melding with the instrument. To underscore this point, pianist Steve Hamilton joins him for a spell: the draw of a slingshot that ultimately sends us reeling into the distance.

Andersen is duly enlivened by the atmosphere of his fellow musicians and of the timeless music in his hands. His voice leaps from the stage in sheer joy of creation, with every note proving his rightful seat in the pantheon of modern bassists. This is a fine recording as well, for it keeps the big band close enough to punch but far enough away so as not to overwhelm. The amplification of Andersen’s instrument has never sounded better. Credit must also be given to the fine arrangements, courtesy of Christian Jacob (Holland), Tommy Smith (Garbarek), Makoto Ozone (Corea), Øyvind Brække/Trygve Seim (Seim), Mike Gibbs (Andersen), and Geoffrey Keezer (Jarrett).

A celebration indeed of a consummate artist, but also more than that: a masterful affirmation of all that is good and true in jazz.

(To hear samples of Celebration, click here.)

Yelena Eckemoff Trio review for All About Jazz

My first review for All About Jazz is now up, and should be of interest to ECM fans. The album in question is the Yelena Eckemoff Trio’s Glass Song, for which the Russian-born pianist brings bassist Arild Andersen and drummer Peter Erskine together for the first time in a sparkling session. Check out the review here, and be sure to watch the promo video below.

Glass Song

Arild Andersen: Hyperborean (ECM 1631)


Hyperborean

Arild Andersen
Hyperborean

Tore Brunborg soprano and tenor saxophones
Bendik Hofseth tenor saxophone
Kenneth Knudsen keyboards
Arild Andersen double-bass
Paolo Vinaccia drums, percussion
Arild Andersen
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?”
–Cleodemus

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.)

Andersen/Towner/Vasconcelos: If You Look Far Enough (ECM 1493)

 

If You Look Far Enough

Arild Andersen bass
Ralph Towner guitars
Nana Vasconcelos percussion
Audun Kleive snare drum
Recorded Spring 1988, July 1991, and February 1992 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Arild Andersen

Manfred Eicher strikes gold with yet another inspired melding of musical minds. The microphones at ECM’s Rainbow Studio this time are privileged to witness an emotionally powerful session from bassist Arild Andersen, guitarist Ralph Towner, and percussionist Nana Vasconcelos. The session begins with something of a title track in “If You Look.” From this swell of drones and metallic whispers comes “Svev,” a scintillating piece that finds Andersen in a buoyant mood. “For All We Know” is a stunningly gorgeous duet between him and Towner—a match made in heaven. Andersen’s tender spaces are the perfect sky for Towner to spread his careful, classical wings. “Backé” continues this intimate reflection, only now with Vasconcelos’s auguries providing a more focused berth for Towner’s spindly ruminations. Vasconcelos adds a vocal swoon for effect. These two tracks are the heart of the album and could continue for its full length if they wished. “The Voice” begins with Andersen’s sustained calls, drawn out like cloud wisps on the horizon and providing a long-forgotten plain for the rhythm and tackle of Vasconcelos’s well-traveled feet. Andersen dips into some electronic augmentations, sounding like an infant foghorn with melodic growing pains. “The Woman” is a beautiful little duet for percussion and bass that works its tender embrace one muscle of sentiment at a time. Andersen’s deft monologue of serpents and harmonics carries the conversation over into “The Place” at a more urgent pace, working sidelong into an inspiring spiral. “The Drink” is another transportive duet, swaying like a caravan transport in the unforgiving sun. Next is “Main Man,” which jumps back into the rhythmic deep end with some funkier vibes, while “A Song I Used To Play” is a slow and tender build to Towner’s 12-string ebullience. “Far Enough” is another haunting drone of spectral footsteps that brings us into “Jonah,” a bass solo that smiles with all the wonder of new life.

This album is something of a sleeper ECM hit and worth seeking out for fans of any and all of these musicians. Don’t pass it up.