on 19 June 2011
Bass player Andersen had been a member of Jan Garbarek's quartet in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a fact which had the practical effect of placing him at the heart of the burgeoning Norwegian jazz scene of that time. Clouds In My Head, the first of the three albums gathered in this set, was recorded in 1975, and it reveals all the strengths of the two which followed and which are also included here -Shimri from 1976 and Green Shading Into Blue from two years later.
Across all three albums what's clear is the extent to which Andersen was more than capable of forging a group identity despite the perhaps inevitable changes in personnel. His compositions play no small part in this as even at their most impressionistic they retain a firm identity. "Cycles" on the first album highlights this with its irregular intervals, but the forthright work of Knut Riisnaes on tenor sax has the effect of making us realise also that Andersen was blessed in terms of the men he got to work with.
Riisnaes had left by the time Shimri was recorded, to be replaced by the Finn Juhani Aaltonen, whose fiery, slightly guttural tenor sax is well featured on the otherwise sedate "Dedication" His work goes to show how well integrated Andersen's quartets were in this period, especially as pianist Lars Jansson was also a new member.
Both men were still around for Green Shading Into Blue which some thirty-odd years on has the effect of reminding us how far European jazz in general had evolved. Jansson's synthesizers are used mainly for highly effective colour on "Sole" but his acoustic piano takes solo honours on that track, while "Terhi" encapsulates the combination of lyricism and fire which comprised the heart of the group's muse.
The collection as a whole serves notice that the `ECM sound' as critically defined was at best a slippery notion. In so doing it reminds us that Nordic jazz has now had its own thing going on for nigh on half a century at least, and Andersen's early quartets are integral to that fact.
This trio collection features Arild Andersen's seventies albums 'Clouds in my Head', 'Shimri' and 'Green Shading into Blue', and this is a real bargain at the price. Anderson has a long track record playing sensitive, melodic bass with many jazz greats: at this point he'd left Garbarek to go solo, and I recently saw him perform with keyboard maestro Ketil Bjornstad. These three albums largely feature Andersen's own compositions, which are beautifully drawn, reflective 'chamber jazz' pieces.
There is a consistent quality to the music throughout these albums, although the personnel may change, the instruments remain similar, except for the addition of synthesisers to 'Green Shading into Blue'. Andersen is a wonderful ensemble musician, and seems to draw the best out of his various and talented band members, Pal Thowsen on drums/percussion being the only quartet member to appear on all three albums; although the line-up for the last two albums stayed the same.
The combination of sax/flute (Riisnaes/Aaltonen), piano (Balke/Jansson), bass and drums produces some colourful and engagingly melodic pieces, with adequate space for soloing, but the overall discipline reflects the tightness of the quartet, and the essential harmonic interplay within the band. If you enjoy Steve Kuhn, Eberhard Weber, or Charles Lloyd's work, then it's very likely you'll appreciate this collection of unshowy quality chamber jazz, impeccably produced by Manfred Eicher at ECM. The set comes with a helpful and informative booklet, giving much detail on Andersen and the making of these albums, whilst providing an update on the many areas this fine musician continues to explore. If you enjoy chamber jazz or the ECM sound, yet are new to Arild Andersen's work, you needn't hesitate: here is some mouthwateringly lovely jazz.