The double-bass of Arild Andersen, for more than four decades an integral part of the sound of ECM, is heard for the first time as the lead voice in large ensemble arrangements of music associated with the label, on an album recorded live at Glasgow’s Royal Conservatoire. Under the direction of Tommy Smith, the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, with Andersen as principal soloist, plays “May Dance” by Dave Holland, “Molde Canticle” by Jan Garbarek, “Crystal Silence” by Chick Corea, “Ulrikas Dans” by Trygve Seim, Arild’s’s own “Independency”, and “My Song” by Keith Jarrett.
The project had its genesis in 2009 when ECM’s 40th anniversary inspired a number of tributes and festivals around the world. Tenorist Tommy Smith, who had been playing extensively with Arild in Andersen’s trio (see “Live At Belleville”), proposed a special event with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, the big band he had founded in 1995. The orchestra is renowned both for its own programmes and for themed collaborations with guests (recent instances including Gary Burton playing Wayne Shorter’s music with the SNJO, and John Scofield playing Electric Miles).
Arild Andersen: “Tommy asked me if I could imagine a project to celebrate ECM, with me as the soloist up front with a full rhythm section, including a second bassist, behind me. We began to think about how that could work, and discussed the choice of material. I soon decided that I wanted to put the emphasis on strongly melodic compositions which would sound good on the bass…” With a provisional selection made, they reached out to the exceptional international pool of arrangers associated with Smith and the SNJO. All pieces here are newly arranged specifically for this project. There are some strikingly original approaches to the material. We hear “Crystal Silence” imaginatively arranged by Makoto Ozone, the Japanese pianist who played alongside Smith in Gary Burton’s quartet in the 1980s (see “Whiz Kids”, ECM 1329). Smith himself arranges Part 1 of Jan Garbarek’s “Molde Canticle”, one highly distinctive saxophone player communing with the melodic imagination of another.
“The project developed like a little history of music on ECM,” Andersen says, “and although the pieces are very different in terms of expression there are also some melodic and atmospheric similarities. I think ‘Molde Canticle’ and ‘Crystal Silence’, for instance, go alongside each other very well.”
If most of the solo space is negotiated, creatively, by Arild, Tommy Smith also has some muscular and incisive solos of his own on the disc – as is immediately evident from the opening ”May Dance”, Dave Holland’s tune from the first Gateway album, reworked in a tight arrangement by Christian Jacob, another Burton alumnus. Arild: “I’d always liked this piece of Dave’s, with its odd metres, and in fact I’d played it in my own groups in the 1990s. I like the way this arrangement takes off from the first moment. I was surprised but pleased when Manfred suggested it as the opening piece for the album. ECM albums quite often slowly establish their atmosphere. This one is right in your face straight away…” The rhythmic understanding that this large ensemble reveals here is testimony to fifteen years of extensive work under Smith’s direction. (Furthermore, Andersen, Smith and powerhouse SNJO drummer Alyn Cosker have also worked in trio together…)
Particular pieces presented particular challenges. Arild had several talks with fellow Norwegian Trygve Seim while the saxophonist was reworking “Ulrikas Dans” (first heard on Seim’s “Different Rivers” disc): “We’d picked it because it was attractively spacey. As Trygve went over it, together with his trombonist friend [Øyvind Brække], it became more complex – and finally quite a challenge for the big band – after the two of them had added a lot more counterpoint lines.” Conversely, Arild’s own “Independency IV”, (from the “Independency Suite” premiered on “Live At Belleville”) is sparsely arranged by Michael Gibbs, with extensive solo space for Andersen, at first moving through shifting clouds of chords, progressing onwards to free exchanges with Smith’s saxophones, moving into jaunty time-playing: this 17-minute performance is the album’s centerpiece. The disc concludes with one of the best-known of contemporary jazz compositions, Keith Jarrett’s “My Song”. Arild: “The original is such a classic recording. In our version you have the bass playing solo, with double-stops, very close to the melody. What’s happening around the melody is very different, but on the double-bass I’m attempting to keep to the spirit and the emotional feeling of Keith’s piano playing.”