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

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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.

Discography:
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