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Arild Andersen: Live at Belleville

John Kelman By

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The general international perception of Norway's jazz scene as "Nordic Cool," is, like most generalizations, inevitably distanced from truth. Atomic, The Core and Motif may possess no shortage of heat, but ECM has undeniably helped define that unmistakable Norwegian aesthetic. One of the "big four," brought to international attention in the early 1970s alongside guitarist Terje Rypdal, saxophonist Jan Garbarek, and drummer Jon Christensen, bassist Arild Andersen's ECM releases have largely avoided the kind of burning improvisational energy of his powerful trio disc Triptykon (1973), with Garbarek and Finnish drummer Edward Vesala. Live at Belleville—Andersen's first live album for ECM since his equally potent but stylistically different Molde Concert (1982)—recalls Triptykon's fiery intensity, but also reflects the same assimilation of traditional Norwegian music of albums including Sagn (1991).

Live at Belleville is, like Triptykon, a trio date, featuring expat Italian drummer Paolo Vinaccia and Scottish saxophonist Tommy Smith. Andersen couldn't have made better choices. When Smith graduated from Berklee College of Music in the 1980s, his sound was a cogent combination of Jan Garbarek's biting tone and Michael Brecker's Americanized soulfulness. Since then his voice has become his own, but Garbarek and Brecker still loom and, while Garbarek's Mai Jazz 2008 performance in Stavanger, Norway made clear he's still capable of edgy spontaneity, Smith has stayed more clearly within definable jazz borders, playing with a stunning combination of measured lyricism and inspired improvisational abandon.

Vinaccia, a Norwegian resident for over 20 years, works regularly with Andersen and Rypdal, heard on the bassist's Electra (ECM, 2005) and guitarist's Vossabrygg (ECM, 2006). Capable of the unabashed energy required to propel Andersen's fiercely swinging "Independency Part 2"—part of the bassist's four-movement "Independency" suite celebrating Norway's 100-year liberation from its Swedish union—Vinaccia also paints with the sparest of colors on the closing "Dreamhorse," as Andersen and Smith play a folkloric melody reminiscent, in spirit, of Jim Pepper's classic "Witchi-Tai-To" over the bassist's gentle, real-time looping.

Despite its clear virtuosity, Live at Belleville demonstrates a compelling balance between reckless unpredictability and careful construction. "Independency Part 1" unfolds slowly, Andersen's robust bass tone creating such an expansive sound that, even when he's not tastefully employing electronics, it often feels larger than a trio, as he simultaneously anchors the sound and provides a melodic foil for Smith. Smith's solo builds with piercing inevitability, harsh screams balanced with economical melodicism. His thrilling duet with Vinaccia at the center of "Part 2" channels hints of Albert Ayler, an early Garbarek influence, and is an early highlight of the 75-minute set, as is the equally galvanizing bass/drums duet that follows.

With enough form to lend cohesive shape to the entire set and plenty of freedom to allow Andersen, Smith and Vinaccia to take the music where they will, Live at Belleville is Andersen's most exciting release to date. Even more, balanced with its lyrical and, at times, near-orchestral tendencies, it's the best disc of Andersen's long and varied career.

Track Listing: Independency Part 1; Independency Part 2; Independency Part 3; Independency Part 4; Prelude to a Kiss; Outhouse; Dreamhorse.

Personnel: Arild Andersen: double-bass, live electronics; Tommy Smith: tenor saxophone; Paolo Vinaccia: drums.

Title: Live At Belleville | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: ECM Records

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