Arild Andersen, Tommy Smith and Paolo Vinaccia previously raised the roof with intense and exultant collective playing on the CD Live At Belleville (recorded in 2007). Widely praised around the world, the album secured for Arild Andersen the Prix du Musicien Européen 2008 from the Academie du Jazz, and was an album-of-the-year choice in France’s Jazz Magazine and Jazzman. “Intensity” can, of course, be defined in many ways and on Mira recorded at Oslo’s Rainbow, the trio re-channel their music’s energies in a programme of soulful ballads and free-floating sound explorations. The combination of Anderson’s muscular and melodic bass and Smith’s vaulting and expressive tenor continues to be exceptionally compelling, and Vinaccia’s approach to ballad-playing is like nobody else’s. Most of the tunes on Mira are from Arild’s pen, though his cohorts also contribute material, with Smith switching to shakuhachi for an improvised dialogue with Vinaccia on “Raijin”. Tommy Smith also shines on Burt Bacharach’s “Alfie”, a tune the trio have been playing as an encore on recent concerts, savouring the prettiness of the melody.
Trio leader Andersen has played in almost every jazz ensemble context over the years, but there is something especially satisfying about hearing him in the bare boned trio format of sax, bass, drums. For long-time Andersen listeners this trio will also trigger memories of Arild in the early 70s, with the Triptykon-trio with Garbarek and Vesala, and the Sam Rivers Trio. The absence of a harmony instrument opens up new space for creative interplay and the three musicians, listening acutely, use it well.
Arild Andersen is of course an ECM musician of the first hour. Born in Oslo in 1945, he joined Jan Garbarek’s group in 1967 and in 1970 recorded Afric Pepperbird with the group that included Terje Rypdal and Jon Christensen. In the same period he worked with Scandinavian residents Don Cherry and George Russell, and backed a long line of visiting Americans – from Sonny Rollins to Chick Corea. After a New York sojourn in the early 1970s that found him working with Sam Rivers, Paul Bley, Steve Kuhn and Sheila Jordan, he returned to Norway and began leading his own bands. His first leader dates were revisited in the box set Green In Blue: Early Quartets in 2010. Andersen has issued 19 albums as a leader or co-leader for ECM, along the way making listeners aware of young talents including Jon Balke, Tore Brunborg, Nils Petter Molvaer and Vassilis Tsabropoulos, all of whom first came to international attention with Andersen bands.
Over the last 20 years Andersen has also explored the junctions of Norwegian folk and improvised music – whether using traditional tunes as a basis for jazz improvising, or directly collaborating with folk musicians, such as singer Kirsten Bråten Berg, co-composer of “Stevtone”, the concluding tune on Mira. Arild’s commissioned works include Hyperborean (recorded 1996) with the Cikada String Quartet and Bendik Hofseth, and Electra (recorded 2005) written for Sophocles’ drama and premiered in Athens in the context of the Olympic Games.
In 2010 Andersen toured as guest soloist with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, the big band directed by Tommy Smith with a programme of music by jazz composers associated with ECM: Arild’s music was featured alongside that of Dave Holland, Chick Corea, Trygve Seim, Jan Garbarek, and Keith Jarrett. A live recording from the tour was issued as the album Celebration. “Most of these pieces began life as small-group music,” wrote Thomas Conrad in Jazz Times. “It is revelatory to hear them elaborated and magnified for a large orchestra, and to hear all previous solo voices amalgamated into one. Andersen is eloquent and flowing and endlessly suggestive.”
In addition to his own projects, Andersen has recently played with the Andy Sheppard quintet on the ECM recording Movements In Colour, and on Ketil Bjørnstad’s tribute to Antonioni, La Notte.
Saxophonist Tommy Smith, born in Edinburgh in 1967, immediately made his mark on the Scottish jazz scene with his first album Giant Strides, recorded when he was just sixteen, in 1983. That same year he won a scholarship to attend the Berklee College of Music in Boston. There, he formed the group Forward Motion, and also joined Gary Burton’s band, with which he appeared on the ECM album Whiz Kids in 1986. He has since released more than twenty albums under his own name for Hep Records, GFM, Blue Note Records, Linn Records and his own Spartacus label. Smith has worked in small groups and big bands, recording and touring with Joe Lovano, David Liebman, Benny Golson, Joe Locke, Gary Burton, Chick Corea, Tommy Flanagan, John Scofield, John Patitucci, Miroslav Vitouš, Jack DeJohnette, Jon Christensen, Kenny Wheeler, and many more. He has composed for and performed with classical orchestras and ensembles including the Orchestra of St. John's Square, the Scottish Ensemble, the Edinburgh Youth Orchestra and the Paragon Ensemble. Smith founded the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra in 1995, and remains its director. SNJO has presented programmes of both repertory classics and more contemporary works, often specially commissioned. Programmes have included tributes to Duke Ellington, Miles Davis and George Gershwin, as well as Smith’s Torah.
Paolo Vinaccia was born in Italy in 1954, and has been based in Norway for the last quarter century. He has toured and recorded with musicians including Terje Rypdal, Jon Christensen, Bendik Hofseth, Ketil Bjørnstad, Palle Mikkelborg, David Darling, Dhafer Youssef, Mike Mainieri and many others. On ECM he appears on Terje Rypdal’s Crime Scene, Vossabrygg, and Skywards albums, as well as Arild Andersen’s Hyperborean, Electra and Live at Belleville. Releases under his own name include the live box set Very Much Alive (Jazzland, 2010) with Rypdal, Mikkelborg, Wesseltoft and Ståle Storløkken.