Arild Andersen Group: Electra (ECM 1908)


Arild Andersen Group

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.