Monday, December 29, 2008

Arild Andersen Trio Live

Live at Belleville
Arild Andersen, Tommy Smith, Paolo Vinaccia
ECM Records 2078

In 1905 Norway dissolved its union with Sweden, becoming the only country to ever democratically elect a sovereign monarch, Haakon VII, formerly Prince Carl of Denmark. To mark the centennial of Norwegian independence from Sweden (an event surely worth celebrating), bassist Arild Andersen composed the Independency suite, which is now the centerpiece of his new trio recording, Live at Belleville.

Belleville, recorded live at the title Oslo jazz club and the Drammen Theatre, launches with Andersen’s ambitious four-part suite. The first movement has a stately but evocative spirit, portending drama to come. The second is more in the free tradition of Andersen’s work with Sam Rivers and Don Cherry, with the Scottish Tommy Smith contributing a fiery solo on tenor.

Independency then segues into an atmospheric, open sounding passage that fits some of the preconceived notions of ECM sound, which Andersen has been a part of almost since the label’s inception (having appeared on Jan Garabrek’s Afric Pepperbird and Robin Kenyatta’s Girl from Martinique in 1970). Andersen’s use of electronic effects also suggests a kinship with some of his soundtrack work, like his Electra, composed for an Athenian production of the Sophocles classic. The suite concludes with a bluesy (if idiosyncratically so) final movement. Throughout, the leader gets plenty of solo space, as does Smith, but his tenor is usually warm or even incendiary, as opposed to Nordic cool.

With Ellington’s “Prelude to a Kiss” Andersen’s trio give the only standard of the session an elegantly sparse treatment that showcases Smith’s free-ranging, but beautifully expressive tenor, subtly supported by drummer Paolo Vinaccia’s brushwork. Belleville concludes with two more Andersen originals. Following a prelude from Vinaccia, still on the brushes, “Outhouse” quickens the tempo, providing a nice vehicle for the trio’s bop chops.

The disk concludes with the haunting melody of “Dreamhorse,” which Andersen introduces on bass in a particularly effective arrangement. The standout track, it also features some of the most sensitive solo statements of the session. (The audience evidently agreed, as they can be heard enthusiastically applauding for the final fifty seconds of the track.)

Andersen covers a great deal of ground in Belleville. Sometimes demanding, at other times lyrically beautiful, it is a richly textured program from a highly attuned group of musicians.