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Arild Andersen: In-House Science (ECM)

Review of live album by longtime ECM recording artist and bassist

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Cover of Arild Andersen album In-House Science on ECM
Cover of Arild Andersen album In-House Science on ECM

It is hard to think of a jazz ensemble that wastes fewer notes than the trio led by bassist Arild Andersen with tenor saxophonist Tommy Smith and drummer Paolo Vinaccia. They make concentrated music. In-House Science is their third recording on ECM in the last decade. Like the first one, Live at Belleville, it was recorded in concert.

The opening piece, wistful as a lullaby, is “Mira.” It was the title track of their second (studio) CD. “North of the Northwind” is more of the mysterious lyricism that Andersen owns. No bassist alive plays solos with a stronger sense of yearning. They tug at the heart. Andersen also uses electronics with aesthetic purpose and restraint. He augments his arco bass with a sampler and creates a carpet of mysterious sonorities, then switches to pizzicato and continues soloing over his electronic orchestra. He can make bass notes hang in the air like omens.

But this subtle, refined trio is also capable of burning the house down, especially when the house contains a loud reactive audience. Andersen opens “Science” at a furious tempo and Smith hurtles after him, in spattering fragmented runs. The ensemble operates impulsively but cohesively in the moment. All three together, they suddenly slow “Science” to a lope, Smith reverting to the melody. Then Andersen breaks into another mad dash and Vinaccia and Smith chase after him. “Blussy” is also relentless, with Smith in catharsis, soaring and shrieking.

Speaking of Smith, this riveting player is one of the great unsung tenor saxophonists in jazz. Perhaps he is overlooked because in Andersen’s trio he stays within his role. Even at its most passionate, this music reveals structure, focus and clarity. Even the wildest notes are never wasted because they serve the greater design. Andersen, who began making excellent albums for ECM almost 50 years ago, is still at it.

Preview, buy or download songs from the live album In-House Science by Arild Andersen on iTunes.

Read Thomas Conrad’s Overdue Ovation profile on Arild Andersen  

Originally Published