In a music such as jazz nothing should be taken for granted, and the best laid musical plans are liable to change at a moment’s notice and this is certainly the case on the excellent new album from veteran bassist Arild Andersen.
Andersen has been an ECM recording artist for more than half a century, playing on some of the defining albums in the label’s extensive discography. Experience often counts for everything, and in this case an about turn in musical direction mid-session has yielded some fine music making.
Taking his new quartet into the studio for their inaugural recording the idea was to record some of the bassist’s compositions, Anderson decided on the second day of the sessions that the group should try some collective improvising. The resulting music has been beautifully captured and this crystal clarity in the sound allows every nuance and gesture to be clearly heard.
The quartet recorded two improvisations, the first ‘Affirmation Part I’ at about 23 minutes, and ‘Affirmation Part II’ at around 14 minutes and these two collectively improvised pieces form the basis for the album, and both are presented here in their entirety.
There is a flow and logic about the music made that shows remarkable empathy within the new quartet. The ability to react intuitively and cohesively is at the heart of the music, as is an inherent sense of lyricism.
Such is the coherence of the two performances that is difficult to escape the idea of form, but it appears that the only form imposed upon these pieces is the organic way in which the music evolves.
There is never a sense of any one leading proceedings, although Andersen’s rich and full bass sound and subtle use of electronics is at the heart of the music. Ideas move freely within and around the quartet, and while it is Andersen’s bass that is first heard on ‘Affirmation Part I ‘in the opening segment titled ‘One’ all are encouraged to shape the music eschewing the idea of soloists entirely.
This emphasis on dialogue and collective communication can be heard throughout and often in a series of duos that appear to create a mood, texture or melodic curve that is then picked up by the quartet each member finding their own space in the music.
Neset’s declamatory tenor saxophone is heard over the tumbling drums on ‘Affirmation Part I – Three’ before giving way to a wonderful three way dialogue between piano, bass and drums. The concluding section of ‘Affirmation – Part I’ begins again with Andersen’s sonorous double bass to the fore, leading into another dialogue that involves all four members of the quartet moving as one before Neset gradually takes the lead with some forceful blowing. Neset is again most engaging on the opening section of ‘Affirmation – Part II’ where his conversational approach is compelling.
Pianist Helge Lien is restrained in his approach for much of the album, and his playing is most effective here as he takes on the role of mediator, a calming influence should the music show sign of becoming a little too fraught. His introduction and dialogue with firstly drummer Mjåset Johansen and Andersen on the closing section is tantalisingly understated, and to heighten the tension and drama still further, Marius Neset’s times his entry into the conversion perfectly.
The album closes, as was originally intended, with a composition by the bassist. Andersen’s ‘Short Story’ is a delicately played out piece that serves as glorious finale to a wonderful album.