Arild Andersen Quintet

Arild Andersen Quintet

In the previous post I wrote of going along to the Southbank Centre to hear Arild Andersen’s star-studded Quintet perform at one of the opening events of this year’s London Jazz Festival and being blown away by the opening act –  Reisjeger/Fraanje/Sylla.  At the interval we turned to each other and said, ‘Arild Andersen’s going to have to be damn good to top that’.

Well he was – the genial Andersen led his relatively new, pan-European quintet through a superb set of his own compositions  from ECM albums like Electra, Hyperborean and Sagn, plus some new material from the Quintet’s forthcoming first album (copies of which were exclusively on sale in the foyer).

Andersen has said that the Quintet ‘started out as an idea to connect the musicians I have been working with the last ten years’ as an occasional side project to the regular trio he has with Italian drummer Paolo Vinaccia and Scottish saxophonist Tommy Smith. Sometimes Andy Sheppard might be in the frame, and sometimes the trumpet player could be Paolo Fresu or Mathias Eick, depending on who’s available. For this concert the Quintet comprised a stellar lineup of ECM European jazz greats: in addition to Arild Andersen on bass (Norway), it consisted of Patrice Heral on drums (France), Marcin Wasilewski on piano (Poland), Tommy Smith on saxophone (Scotland) and Matthieu Michel on flugelhorn (Switzerland).

The set opened with a number from the forthcoming ECM album Mira, the haunting ‘Reparate’ with Andersen leading on bowed bass.  Here’s how Michael Tucker summed up the Quintet’s performance in his review for Jazz Journal:

Throughout the set, their empathy and understanding were in plentiful evidence. Executed (on his new lion-crowned bass) with characteristic glee and sensuous commitment, Andersen’s dazzlingly fleet pizzicato lines elicited quicksilver response from a drummer who knows how to exploit the full dynamic range of his kit – and then some, courtesy of sensitively employed electronics and the zestful talent for Indian-inflected vocalizing which capped the closing number.  With modal and harmonic elements in the mix, Wasilewski offered rubato, up-tempo, and also funky lines (all on regular piano apart from one ostinato foray on keyboards) while Smith complemented an increasingly authoritative, practically sculpted lyricism on tenor (especially in the upper registers) with an affectingly folkish outing on shakuhachi flute. Music for grown-ups with open hearts and minds, the melodically appealing, dynamically sensitive and sometimes rhythmically fierce concert went down a storm with a full house which included Andersen’s old playing partner, drummer John Marshall.

Tommy Smith and Arild Andersen

Tommy Smith and Arild Andersen

That shakuhachi solo by Tommy Smith was outstanding – reminding me of his wonderful solo album, Into Silence, two dozen improvisations around folk songs, ballads and Gregorian chants recorded in the beautiful and haunting reverberation of the Hamilton Mausoleum.  It was a peaceful moment in a largely up-tempo set dominated by the terrific rapport between Andersen and Heral who provided a driving rhythmic backbone for the performance.

Another reviewer, Thomas Rees, offered this assessment:

The veteran Norwegian bassist, described the pan-European quintet, which featured Poland’s Marcin Wasilewski on piano, Frenchman Patrice Heral on Drums, Swiss trumpeter Matthieu Michel on flugelhorn and Scotland’s own Tommy Smith on tenor saxophone, as his ‘dream group’ and it was clear from his playing that he meant it.

The set was a whirlwind of tempo changes and metric modulations. Wistful melodies raced away into snatches of surging swing with the rhythm section pushing hard, urging the group on. Gentle ballads, like ‘Lucia’, and passages of introspection drew the audience in. They sounded strange and beautiful with simple tunes and chord changes that evoked songbook classics while remaining contemporary and free. It was almost as if you had heard them before, as if Andersen were rescuing old melodies from the swirling fog of your imperfect memory.

The bassist’s arco lines radiated warmth, like the soft red curtains and heavy lamps that adorned the stage, but his playing could be aggressive too. His angular, off-kilter duets with Heral, with whom he has worked in numerous different settings over the past ten years, were a particular highlight. The pair were all smiles as they second-guessed and wrong-footed one another, trading and reinventing ideas. They brought the best out of Wasilewski who stamped his foot and hunched his shoulders, spinning out lines and snatching his hand away from the keyboard as if he were afraid it might become entangled in the threadlike melodies. Michel and Smith were imperious throughout. The scotsman contributed muscular solos on up- tempo numbers like ‘The Fox’ with altissimo holds and twisting lines that were heartfelt, almost Coltrane-like. His gentle introduction to the last ballad of the set, played on wooden flute, recalled the airy folk music of the Andes and was a further highlight. It blended perfectly with the enviable sound of Michel’s flugelhorn which came soaring out of the texture to take up the melody.

In a final change of pace, the quintet’s closing number saw Heral vocalising the rhythms of his kit, distorting and layering them with a loop pedal and playing over the top, thrashing at tomtoms and cymbals. After a nod from Andersen, the tune’s signature riff returned, the voices of the horns filling the auditorium and adding to Heral’s shouts: a climatic whirlwind of sound and a final hymn to cooperation and interplay.

Apart from his own albums as leader (the best of which in my opinion is Live at Belleville, recorded in 2008 with Paolo Vinaccia & Tommy Smith), Andersen has appeared on ECM albums by Jan Garbarek (such as Afric Pepperbird and Sart), Terje Rypdal, Markus Stockhausen and Andy Sheppard (the superb Movements in Colour).

Arild Andersen Quintet: ‘The Fox’ at Oslo Jazzfestival 2012

Arild Andersen Quintet: ‘Reparate’ at Oslo Jazzfestival 2012

Arild Andersen Quintet: ‘Basswave’ at Oslo Jazzfestival 2012

Arild Andersen Quintet: ‘Lucia’ at Oslo Jazzfestival 2012

Arild Andersen Quintet: ‘Saturday’ at Oslo Jazzfestival 2012

See also

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