The debut of Arild Andersen's now longstanding trio with Scottish saxophonist Tommy Smith
and Italian expat drummer Paolo Vinaccia
on Live at Belleville
(ECM, 2008) came as no small surprise, even to those familiar with the Norwegian bassist's work on the labeldating right back to its inception on Jan Garbarek
's classic Afric Pepperbird
(ECM, 1971), as well as with his own fine triptych of more accessible early albums, recently collected on Green Into BlueEarly Quartets
Andersen has proven, over a career now spanning six decades, to be a bassist with a muscular tone and broad stylistic reach: from the freer terrain of Tryptikon
(ECM, 1973), with Garbarek and Finnish drummer Edward Vesala
; through his fusion of jazz modality and the Norwegian folk tradition on Sagn
(ECM, 1993); to the remarkably focused, spontaneous compositions of Karta
(ECM, 2000), a trio date with German trumpeter Markus Stockhausen
and French percussionist Patrice Héral augmented, for this session, by Andersen's partner in ECM's original Nordic "Big Five," guitarist Terje Rypdal
. Still, few could have expected the absolute heat
that permeated Live at Belleville
, an early document of a trio that, six years later, has further evolved both its language and chemistry with Mira
Contrasting the greater energy of Live at Belleville
, the studio- born Mira
may find Andersen, Smith and Vinaccia in a generally more pensive mood, but that doesn't mean there aren't moments where the trio simmers with collective heat. Andersen's "Rossetti" may begin in near-pastoral terrain, but over its relatively brief five minutes, the traditional-tinged themedoubled by Andersen and Smith, with the saxophonist demonstrating particularly fine altissimo controlopens up into a horn solo of unfettered freedom, occasional piercing screams and fiery phrases of grit and grease. Saxophone trios are a risky proposition; with no chordal instrument to provide a harmonic context, the very freedom that represents can, in the wrong hands, become a liability. Not so here, as Andersen accompanies Smith with a firm hand, implying harmonic verticality even as he locks, tongue-in-groove, with the ever- unpredictable but always dependable Vinaccia before heading into his own solo, combining an unparalleled robust tone with unmistakably lyrical precepts.
The trio even gets loosely funky with Andersen's "Blussy." Opening with Vinaccia a cappella
solo, the bassist soon enters with a visceral line that manages to blend gospel-tinged concerns with more oblique sophistication, challenging Smith to weave his solo through a more complex harmonic foundation, which he does with fiery aplomb, before Andersen takes over, all groove and chicken-necking attitude. Elsewhere, in this set of primarily Andersen compositions, positioned between Smith's meditative shakuhachi solo, "Kangiten" and "Raijin"an improvised duo where Vinaccia's tribal pulse and some brief chordal washes support further shakuhachi ruminationsthe bassist's rubato tone poem, "Le Saleya," finds Andersen and Smith traveling in separate orbits that often intersect but occasionally diverge into soft harmonies.
The intro to Andersen's title track revolves around a looped bass pattern, over which Andersen layers a dark melody steeped in centuries-old tradition, the piece coalescing further when Smith entersmoving effortlessly from low register to soft altissimobolstered by Vinaccia's textural leanings; but it's Andersen's resonant, singing tone and melodic ideation that defines this, Mira
's most beautiful track.
A long overdue and equally impressive follow-upalbeit for different reasonsMira
presents this trio in a different light to its 2008 debut; still, it's no surprise that Andersen, Vinaccia and Smith prove as capable of darker intents as they do more energetic exchanges. Studio recordings inherently present alternative perspectives, and with Mira
, the possibilities both delivered and alluded to on Live at Belleville
now possess an evolved simpatico, greater attention to space and more expansive, expressive
vernacular that, despite allowing so much time to pass since the trio's last recording, is the direct result of its working regularly in the six years between them.