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.

<< Meredith Monk: Atlas (ECM 1491/92 NS)
>> Messiaen: Méditations Sur Le Mystère De La Sainte Trinité (ECM 1494 NS)

Masqualero: Re-Enter (ECM 1437)


Arild Andersen bass
Jon Christensen drums, percussion
Tore Brunborg tenor and soprano saxophones
Nils Petter Molvær trumpet
Recorded December 1990 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Three years after leading Aero, Arild Andersen’s Masqualero outfit—by now a quartet with Jon Christensen on drums, Tore Brunborg on saxophones, and Nils Petter Molvær on trumpet—returned to ECM’s Rainbow Studio with a solid follow-up. On this outing the band seems most comfortable in its shoes, and uses that confidence to travel more abstract avenues of expression. The strident opening statement in the title cut is a case in point, for its conventions quickly slide down a banister of drums into a groovy bass line, mere preamble to some wild conversation between Molvær and Brunborg, who rock that fulcrum with unrelenting conviction. (Note also their smoldering handoff in “Gaia.”) The latter’s gorgeous soprano brings out more of the same in “Lill’ Lisa” over some touch-and-go drumming from Christensen and Andersen’s echoing draws. Even subtler acts of sonic pension like “Heiemo, Gardsjenta” and “Find Another Animal” pull at frayed seams in delightful ways. “Little Song” is, in scope, anything but, expanding as it does far into the horizon of its intimacies. And if John Zorn’s Masada is your bag, then you’re sure to be delighted by “There Is No Jungle In Baltimore.” Masqualero crosses the finish line with time to spare in “Stykkevis Og Delt,” ending with a concoction that is equal parts elegy and tribute, as monochromatic and cloudy as cover photograph.

I feel fortunate to have encountered most of Arild Andersen’s work in chronological order. Doing so has allowed me to witness with fair proximity the evolution of his craft. The sound of his amplified instrument here is thick and honest, at times unassuming yet more than willing to muscle its way to the top when needed. Due to its meandering nature, Re-Enter is as much about feeling as it is about the means of expressing it. It wants to emote rather than simply describe its stories, and this is what separates Andersen from the pack. A getaway for the heart, this one.

<< Doran/Studer/Burri/Magnenat: Musik für… (ECM 1436)
>> Jimmy Giuffre: Jimmy Giuffre 3, 1961 (ECM 1438/39)

Arild Andersen: Sagn (ECM 1435)

Arild Andersen

Arild Andersen bass
Kirsten Bråten Berg vocals
Bendik Hofseth tenor and soprano saxophones
Frode Alnæs guitar
Bugge Wesseltoft keyboards
Nana Vasconcelos percussion, vocals
Recorded August 1990 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Arild Andersen

Sagn was the result of a commission for the 1990 Vossajazz festival that sealed the collaborative spirits of singer Kirsten Bråten Berg and bassist Arild Andersen. Blending folk songs from their native Norway, along with jazz and rock elements, the two shared the stage with percussionist Nana Vasconcelos, saxophonist Bendik Hofseth, pianist Bugge Wesseltoft, and guitarist Frode Alnæs. While we don’t have (so far as I’m aware) a live recording of what was surely an historic occasion, we do have this ECM studio rendition, buffed and polished to a mirror’s shine.

The album’s multilayered concept is perhaps best demonstrated in the title track, which opens with an ambient drone (something akin to the lull of train tracks) before awakening to the rhythm of Vasconcelos’s touches and Berg’s unmistakably equally earthy elements. Her voice binds this album together, even as it scatters its pages to the wind. Hofseth, bearing a proud stamp of influence from Jan Garbarek while being no mere epigon, traces lines in the sand with his tenor. These Andersen is happy to overstep in that gentle way he has.

From here we travel the length of an entire seasonal cycle, each point on the compass like a year divided. “Gardsjenta” continues this wintry mix, whitewashing us into the young dawn of “Eisemo,” in which Andersen’s lyrical swings first come into prominence amid Vasconcelos’s scrapings. The latter offers a deeper, worldly feel throughout “Toll,” for which Andersen offers a head nod to Eberhard Weber. ECM artist influences continue in “Draum,” in which Alnæs lends a Terje Rypdal brand of melancholy to the album’s first intimations of spring before opening into some powerful screaming from Hofseth (a cathartic moment). Wesseltoft cradles the past in the vocal territories of “Laurdagskveld,” while “Tjovane” (heard more recently on Trio Mediaeval’s Folk Songs) sends us forward into the band’s ecstatic synergies. “Sorgmild” is by far the album’s most breathtaking. Hofseth’s tenor sings like the wind and primes us for a tender solo from Andersen. After the diffusion of “Svarm” and “Gamlestev,” the syncopations of “Reven” bring us into a lively summer. It is also a mysterious summer, whose dreams are played out in a smattering of rounded tracks until the winds of “Belare” whip up a storm of leaves, bringing us full circle into the icy depths and ending this masterful album on a trailing brushstroke.

Sagn is a massive effort, one of ECM’s fullest on a single disc, and stands as Andersen’s most personal statement to date.

<< Bach: Das Wohltemperierte Klavier, Buch II – Jarrett (ECM 1433/34 NS)
>> Doran/Studer/Burri/Magnenat: Musik für… (ECM 1436)

Masqualero: Aero (ECM 1367)


Arild Andersen bass
Jon Christensen drums
Tore Brunborg tenor and soprano saxophones
Nils Petter Molvær trumpet
Frode Alnæs guitar
Recorded November 1987 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Arild Andersen

Arild Andersen found one of his clearest avenues of expression with Masqualero, a group that brought him notably together with trumpeter Nils Petter Molvær, saxophonist Tore Brunborg, and drummer Jon Christensen. On Aero, the group’s second album for ECM, he is joined also by Frode Alnæs, whose looming drones ebb and flow throughout the title opener, which seems to materialize out of nothing into a looming figure of delicate comportment and elegant mind. It is this figure whose footsteps Andersen articulates. In “Science” this figure shows us it can dance, fashioning a partner out of snatches of rain and cloud, autumn and snowdrift. The confidence of that stride is expressed in the superb dynamic contrasts of the band, only to be unraveled through Brunborg’s platonic soprano into a sonorous vulnerability. Despite his penchant for lush enigmas, Alnæs isn’t above flicking a brief allusion here to “Flight of the Bumblebee” from the end of his sonic cigarette. Andersen opens “Venise” alone before smoothing out its wrinkles through Christensen’s delicate shaker and gurgling snare. Molvær is beguiling here, all the more so for being backed by the ghostly draws of Alnæs’s electric. “Printer” busts out a decidedly fatter sound, marked in the shift to alto sax. Guitar lines scratch the earth with their steel-stringed nails, Andersen licking the background like a flame all the while. “Bålet” opens in a quiet electronic swamp that sounds more like something off of Jon Hassell’s Power Spot, which is to say it comes across as highly organic in spite of the technological enhancements. Alnæs floats some lanterns from the book of Rypdal on the icy stream that is “Return,” which is kept from freezing over by Andersen’s buoyancy, and resolves into an eddy of brass. We come at last to “Bee Gee.” Molvær’s muted wings balance Andersen’s deep twangs, threaded by a fragile shaker. The loveliness intensifies with Brunborg’s soprano and in the lilting crawl of the guitar, which carries us out in heavenly repose.

<< John Surman: Private City (ECM 1366)
>> Paul Hillier: Proensa (ECM 1368 NS)

Masqualero: Bande À Part (ECM 1319)


Bande À Part

Arild Andersen basses
Nils Petter Molvær trumpet
Tore Brunborg saxophones
Jon Balke piano, synthesizer
Jon Christensen drums, percussion
Recorded August and December 1985 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher and Masqualero

Masqualero was the Arild Andersen Quintet by another name, a name that both tipped its hat to Wayne Shorter while casting its gaze toward a future that was decidedly Andersen’s. Note the formidable cast of up-and-comers: Nils Petter Molvær on trumpet, Tore Brunborg on saxophones, and Jon Balke on keys. Add to that Jon Christensen on drums, and one can hardly go wrong. Andersen himself flexes his compositional muscles on three cuts, filling each with his depth of tone. Yet his presence is, as ever, non-invasive, and allows a porous democracy to seep through. The skipping snare and soaring trumpet of “3 For 5” throw a lacy net over Balke’s gorgeous strains, leaving us buffed for the varnish of “Natt.” In this we find one spiral after another, sliding down the throat of the freely improvised “Sort Of” before cresting on the wave of “Vanilje.” Andersen digs deep for this one, excavating cloudy jewels of wisdom. Balke’s “Bali” is especially moving and finds unity in Brunborg’s horn. A rolling drum solo closes this frenetic weave. Christensen throws his compositional hat into the ring with “Tutte,” a stretch of arco strains and slow tumbles. Molvær does likewise with “No Soap (A Jitterbug Jamboree),” another stunner that glows at the edges. “Nyl,” Balke’s other offering, draws a protracted groove, indicated by bass and then set free into an expanse of vocal energy.

The strength of Bande À Part lies in the writing, ever rooted in the soil of reflection. Andersen’s is a sound-space where we may float or lie prone as we see fit, laughing and crying in the same breath. An essential release for Andersen enthusiasts that speaks to the heart of his craft.

<< Stephan Micus: Ocean (ECM 1318)
>> Paul Bley: Fragments (ECM 1320)

Arild Andersen: Molde Concert (ECM 1236)

ECM 1236

Arild Andersen
Molde Concert

Bill Frisell guitar
John Taylor piano
Arild Andersen double-bass
Alphonse Mouzon drums
Recorded live August 1981 at the Molde Jazz Festival, Norway
Engineer: Tore Skille

Arild Andersen created some of the most melodic jazz in the latter half of the twentieth century, and the music on this CD reissue of 1981’s (A) Molde Concert adds 20 glorious minutes of unreleased material to this historic date at the prestigious Norwegian festival. Here, the bassist is joined by names which, though now celebrated, were still fledgling at the time: guitarist Bill Frisell (still seeking out his characteristic warble among the increasingly populated trees of the 1980s), pianist John Taylor, and ex-Weather Reporter Alphonse Mouzon on drums. These days, such a line-up would create another—long out the door of wherever they might be playing. Yet if the audience’s reactions are any indication, back then it must have been a welcome surprise.

After an elastic opening, “Cherry Tree” slingshots into a set consisting entirely of Andersen originals, save for the romping “Dual Mr. Tillman Anthony” (Miles Davis) that concludes the show. From the beginning, the breadth of arrangement is apparent, Frisell laying out embracing themes as Andersen and Mouzon work double time. A tumbling Taylor spins his own brand of liquid magic into “Targeta,” bringing its blissful chording into a slow-motion groove. If every solo tells a story, then most prosaic on Molde is Frisell’s here. “Six For Alphonse” is a standout. Featuring rich interplay between guitar and piano, it also explodes with a stellar solo from Mouzon. “Nutune” is far more viscous, a creeping vessel over the helm of which hunches Andersen’s loamy bass. His subsequent duet with Frisell in “Lifelines” dances Weber-like and carries us gently into the epic “The Sword Under His Wings,” which after a few stirrings of blown leaves, spirals into a more shapely cyclone. Andersen delights with a rare arco solo before springing into a forward groove backed by Mouzon and Taylor as Frisell hurls his bends skyward. After the whimsical provincialism of “Commander Schmuck’s Earflap Hat,” the rough-hewn ore of Frisell’s strings hardens into “Koral.” The band’s inspiring precision works to a heartwarming finish that is the essence of Andersen’s soulful wit. “Cameron” bristles with Frisell’s sonic quills, each brushed back carefully with the grain, while “A Song I Used To Play” serves up a steaming bowl of nostalgia.

Andersen’s recognition of these young talents is proof of both his incisive mind and welcoming spirit. The depth of his choices is enhanced by the pristine recording, which holds up well after all these years. For those Andersen fans wanting the perfect balance of ice and fire, look no further.

<< Hajo Weber/Ulrich Ingenbold: Winterreise (ECM 1235)
>> Pirchner/Pepl/DeJohnette: s/t (ECM 1237)

Arild Andersen: Lifelines (ECM 1188)

ECM 1188

Arild Andersen

Arild Andersen double bass
Kenny Wheeler fluegelhorn, cornet
Steve Dobrogosz piano
Paul Motian drums
Recorded July 1980 at Talent Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

After an explosive introduction, Arild Andersen’s Lifelines kicks us like a soccer ball down the field of “Cameron,” where we are intercepted by Steve Dobrogosz’s swirling keys. Into this hammered storm, Andersen drops his bass, keeping us centered in this staggering opener. And staggering this album most certainly is, resting on a fine edge of airtight cohesion and loosened seams. We find more of the same in the loveliness of “Dear Kenny” and in “A Song I Used To Play,” both teetering on a line drawn to Andersen’s careful scale. Even the ballads seem to flirt with a great precipice. Falling from the haloed clouds of “Prelude” and into the depths of the two-part title piece, we find ourselves smack dab in Enrico Rava territory. The album’s highlight comes in the form of “Landloper,” a 50-second bass solo that sparks the inner fire of “Predawn.” In keeping with his penchant for optimistic endings, Andersen gives us “Anew.” Paul Motian is delightfully frenetic here and matched by Dobrogosz’s erratic song, veiled only by the sustain pedal’s illusory veneer.

What moves me most about Andersen’s approach to the bass is his ability to hold onto a quiet heart even at his most ecstatic moments. Like ECM’s other great veteran, Charlie Haden, he always keeps himself firmly rooted in the melody. Wheeler and Motian prove loyal allies, regaling us like wizened elders with tales of old. The real star of this date, however, is Dobrogosz. In his only ECM appearance, the American-born pianist (now a longtime resident of Stockholm) seems as if he could expound for hours upon every motif and never repeat himself. He is the kindling that keeps this music burning, slow-roasting it to irresistible succulence.

<< Rainer Brüninghaus: Freigeweht (ECM 1187)
>> Jack DeJohnette’s Special Edition: Tin Can Alley (ECM 1189)

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

ECM 2143-45

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.

ECM 1059

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.

<< Steve Kuhn: ECSTASY (ECM 1058)
>> Ralph Towner: Solstice (ECM 1060)

… . …

ECM 1082

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.

<< Art Lande: Rubisa Patrol (ECM 1081)
>> Terje Rypdal: After The Rain (ECM 1083)

… . …

ECM 1127

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.

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.

<< Art Ensemble of Chicago: Nice Guys (ECM 1126)
>> Jack DeJohnette: New Directions (ECM 1128)

Jan Garbarek: Triptykon (ECM 1029)

ECM 1029

Jan Garbrek

Jan Garbarek soprano, tenor and bass saxophones, flute
Arild Andersen bass
Edward Vesala percussion
Recorded November 8, 1972 at Arne Bendiksen Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Jan Garbarek’s third album for ECM is a free, though by no means easy, trek through indeterminate territories. “Rim” breaks into light with the mournful saxophonic cries that thread the entire set. Arild Andersen dots Garbarek’s auditory cloth with almost vocal ink stains. We find Garbarek in a uniquely agitated mode, showing both great restraint and willful shifting in his performance. This is an arresting track, as sublimely depressing as it is soulful. The title denotes “frost” in Norwegian, and describes Edward Vesala’s icy percussion to a T. In “Selje,” Garbarek opts for a wooden flute against a thawed backdrop of bass and wind chime-like glockenspiel: a mystical aside to an otherwise forward projection.

“J.E.V.” breaks from the album’s expansive palette with a more flatly recorded sax intro. The appearance of bass and drums merely underlines the music’s hesitancy, at once assured and unaware of its future paths. “Sang” (Chant) is another subdued interlude, featuring a bass sax caught in a silken web of percussion and bass. The title track unravels like a herding song picked apart piece by piece, its remnants scattered along the base of a low mountain to the tune of an intriguing bass solo. “Etu Hei!” screeches and pounds its way into being before the Norwegian folk song “Bruremarsj” is rendered in a tense bondage of sax and bowed bass, closing with a flutter of wing beats in the final drum break.

In spite of its many abstractions, Triptykon is rife with melody and movement. It’s almost as if a distant relative were singing traditional tunes that everyone else in the family has forgotten. Though drunk with nostalgia and slurred speech, his voice is so genuine that one can hardly fault him for straying a bit off the beaten path. With repeated listenings, one begins to distinguish such thematic material from its improvised surroundings, thereby rendering any challenges this album sets before us much deeper in their returns.

<< Paul Motian: Conception Vessel (ECM 1028)
>> Gary Burton: The New Quartet (ECM 1030)