Arild Andersen: Affirmation

The Norwegian bassist set out to release seven of his compositions but in the event two long, off-piste improvisations were preferred


Recently appointed Commander of the Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav by King Harald of Norway, Arild Andersen is one of the most distinguished voices in European jazz. Having played a huge role in defining the sound of ECM Records, he shows in this brilliantly adventurous set that he is not about to rest on any laurels.

Originally intended to be a collection of seven of Andersen’s compositions, Affirmation instead draws on the group’s second day in the studio. The bassist’s suggestion that the band go off-script was accepted, and the resulting two long collective improvisations are object lessons in the art of space and movement.

Andersen’s stellar quartet has already notched up over a hundred live shows since its formation in 2018. Neset and Lien need little introduction, while the quick-witted Håkon Mjåset Johansen (Trondheim Jazz Orchestra) has shared the drum seat with Gard Nilssen. The quartet’s music often recalls Jarrett’s mid-70s Scandinavian quartet and the Garbarek-Stenson group, and while Andersen may not be associated with either ensemble he is certainly no stranger to playing “waves”.

Part I spans almost 25 minutes, the quartet slowly feeling its way into a wintry electro-acoustic soundscape as Neset’s tenor yoiks and Lien’s icy ripples build tension and atmosphere. Working outwards from a common tonal centre, the group pulls a succession of forms and melodies from its collective memory. The shorter Part II takes a more tempestuous turn, Neset’s fiery tenor momentarily recalling Andersen’s collaborations with Sam Rivers. With a Breckerish Neset is at his fluid best the elegiac Short Story gives a glimpse of how things might have been had the group stuck to their original brief.

Much has been made in the pre-publicity of Andersen’s return to his free-jazz roots, but for me Affirmation demonstrates that freedom is an ever-present attitude of mind that continues to shape his monumental body of work.

Affirmation Part I (Parts 1-4); Affirmation Part II (Parts 5-7); Short Story (45.21)
Andersen (b) with Marius Neset (ts); Helge Lien (p); Håkon Mjåset Johansen (d). Rainbow Studio, Oslo, November 2021.
ECM Records 4828593