Masqualero: Re-Enter (ECM 1437)

 

Masqualero
Re-Enter

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.

Masqualero: Aero (ECM 1367)

 

Masqualero
Aero

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.

Masqualero: Bande À Part (ECM 1319)

 

Masqualero
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.