Arild Andersen’s name has run like a thread through almost the entire history of ECM records, all the way back to the double-bass player’s collaboration with Jan Garbarek on Afric Pepperbird back in 1971. His most recent project has been the trio formed a decade ago with Paolo Vinaccia on drums and Tommy Smith on saxophone. I saw them play a spell-bindingly energetic set at Manchester’s Band on the Wall.
The Arild Andersen Trio have released two albums: the wild and intense Live at Belleville recorded in Oslo in the autumn of 2007, and Mira, released in 2014, a more restrained, ballads-orientated affair. At the Band on the Wall the Trio leaned more towards the former, though not to the exclusion of moments of lyrical beauty.
All three musicians gave performances of fierce intensity, but seated on the second row in this intimate venue, what really struck me was the often ferocious energy of Paolo Vinaccia’s drumming. The Italian, based in Oslo for some 16 years, wasn’t wearing his ‘Old But Still Alive’ tee-shirt, instead nailing his colours to the mast with one sporting the Stones tongue and lips logo. To be clear: his work at the drumkit may be loud and wild at times, but is also inventive and unpredictable. He drives the group forward, but locks them firmly in step at the same time.
The set opened with an extended introduction on the double bass by Arild Andersen to ‘Hyperborean’, the title track of his 1997 album that featured two saxes and a string quartet. Andersen did clever things with an electronic box of tricks that enabled him to build layers of strings with digital loops with the result that he gradually began to duet with himself – accompanying the notes he had played seconds before. Effectively, this meant that alone he was able to recreate the sound of the string quartet on the original album.
In Greek mythology, the Hyperboreans were a race who inhabited the northern portion of the earth, beyond the great mountains whose caverns were thought to send forth the blasts of the north wind that chilled the people of Hellas. For three months of each year, they believed, Apollo would leave Delphi and join the northerners, travelling through the sky in a chariot drawn by swans. Which suggests that the ancient Greeks had an inkling of the Scandinavian season of the midnight sun. Andersen’s composition evokes the shimmering light and spaciousness of the northern summer, with Tommy Smith’s soaring saxophone perhaps suggesting Apollo’s chariot driving ever higher, ever further north.
In a sense, it was the Hyperborean recording that gave birth to the Trio. The lead sax on the album was played by Tore Brunborg (who we’ve seen with Tord Gustavsen on several occasions). For a while Andersen, Brunborg and Vinaccia performed gigs as a trio before Brunborg moved on and Andersen replaced him with Tommy Smith. (The pair go back a long way, having known each other since they appeared together on a Channel Four television series recorded in Edinburgh when the saxophonist was a teenager.)
By way of contrast to the stately ‘Hyperborean’, the band were at their most loosely funky on ‘Blussy’ from the most recent album, Mira. With this number you gained a real sense of how complex the energetic interactions between the three musicians can be, with Smith’s wailing sax weaving around Vinaccia’s intricate drum patterns, while Andersen’s bass provides subtle lines of support.
Though such high-energy interplay dominated the show, there were periods of contrasting calm, such as their rendition of ‘Mira’, the eponymous album’s most beautiful track. Elsewhere, in this set of mainly Andersen compositions, we were treated to ‘Kangiten’ which opens with a meditative shakuhachi solo from Tommy Smith. And for their encore they closed with Tommy Smith’s lovely interpretation of ‘Alfie’ – also from the Mira collection.
A great evening of impassioned jazz that combined fiery workouts with soulful passages.
Arild Andersen Trio live at Band on the Wall
Arild Andersen Trio plays ‘Blussy’ live in Oslo, November 2012
Arild Andersen Trio play ‘Mira’ in Camerino, Italy, June 2014
Arild Andersen Trio play ‘Alfie’ in Camerino, Italy, June 2014
- A legend comes to town: Norwegian Arts profile, May 2016
- Arild Andersen Quintet: pan-European jazz stars: London Jazz Festival review, 2013
- Arild Andersen: Burning in the Cold, Dark North: Jazz Times