Recorded September 2007 at Belleville, Oslo and Drammen Theatre.
Bassist and composer Arild Andersen is one of ECM's original big guns. He appeared with saxophonist Jan Garbarek, drummer Jon Christensen, and guitarist Terje Rypdal on Garbarek's legendary Afric Pepperbird date in 1970, and has recorded as both a leader and preferred session player for the imprint ever since. Live at Belleville is Andersen's first offering since 2005, and stands in stark contrast to it. Electra was composed for the Spring Theater in Athens, for their production of the same name. The band was large and contained many guests from the European North including Arve Henricksen, Bugge Wesseltoft, Eivind Aarset, Nils Petter Molvaer, and drummer Paolo Vinaccia, who also appears here along with Scottish sax boss Tommy Smith (a prominent member of Andy Sheppard's fine band and the leader of over 20 dates of his own).
The set was indeed recorded live at the Oslo club Belleville, and also in performance at the Drammen Theater. As such, this is a kind of classic Andersen offering, in that it features his playing and highlights virtually all of the music he's been interested in during his long career. Over half of the set is made up of the four-part suite "Independency." It showcases everything from the bassist's obsession with Norwegian folk forms, post-bop, and near free improvisation in a trio setting to atmospheric, structured improv bordering on the episodic music from his scores for theater and cinema. The first section addresses Norwegian folk forms directly. It offers a different side of the same kinds of explorations done by Garbarek, though Andersen's are more tempered and far less ornamental melodically. "Part Two" is more concerned with his fascination with the music of players like John Coltrane, Sam Rivers, and the powerhouse blowing of both. The leader's bass alternately prods, propels, hovers, and drives the band into unhidden corners, seeking to allow not only emotion but to give dense harmonic ideas free rein.
The rest of the set contains a fine reading of the standard "Prelude to a Kiss" (at 7:24 the shortest track here). Beginning with a long, gentle tenor solo reminiscent of the phrasing of Ben Webster, Smith takes his time to unfold the melody as Andersen offers shimmering drones atop Vinaccia's deft brushwork. Of the final two pieces, "Outhouse" is a tremendous workout involving modalism, post-bop, and freewheeling intensity. It's pure technical muscle as it meets fierce communication between the three principals. Andersen long ago established himself as one of the best in the game, but it's in live performances that we get to hear all of the reasons why this is so. As a leader he is imposing, but he never towers above his sidemen. As an innovator, he nonetheless remains at the service of whatever he's written, and he understands the value of elaborately phrased statements and economically expressive ones. He is a master poet and provocateur on his instrument, and in the music he composes. This is as solid a trio date as one is likely to find in 2008.
All Music Guide
The first release from Arild Andersen's new trio, featuring saxophonist Tommy Smith and drummer Paolo Vinaccia in a performance recorded live at Oslo's Belleville Club and the Drammen Theatre. One of the most comprehensive and exciting recordings of Andersen's long creative career, it allies compositional intelligence to top flight improvising with powerful results.
The major work on the disc is Andersen's "Independency", a piece written in 2005 to mark the centenary of Norway's liberation from the union with Sweden, presented as an epic voyage of continually changing musical emphasis, from guided free playing to post-bop group interaction, beautiful balladry and evocative sound-painting.
The stripped-down sax/bass/drums format will make long-time Andersen listeners recall his historic collaborations with Jan Garbarek/Edward Vesala ("Triptykon") or Sam Rivers/Barry Altschul ("Hues", on Impulse); "Live At Belleville" is also in this tradition. Scottish tenorist Smith makes a magisterial showing. Reviewing a live performance of "Independency" in the Birmingham Post, Peter Bacon wrote. "As a demonstration of what the saxophone is capable of, this was something of a master-class. Smith's mastery of whole areas above the instrument's normal range - and then to draw such sweet notes from that stratosphere - simply takes the breath away." Smith's versatility is emphasized also in a yearning and freely expressive version of Duke Ellington's "Prelude To A Kiss". Throughout, the interaction between the trio is exemplary. Apart from driving the trio forward with his muscular basslines and locking in with Paolo Vinaccia's detailed drums, Andersen also expands the band's sonic palette with discreet electronics, building layers of strings with digital loops, and creating arrangements in the moment.