Sunday, 24 August 2008

Arild Andersen @ The Hub, Edinburgh

Thanks to Apple I can now easily edit and blog from my palm, wherever I happen to be. My temporary tardiness is the only inhibitor, with blogging slipping lower and lower down the list of priorities for now. All of that's of necessity though, with so much to do at the moment. Once the house stuff is sorted, Afric Pepperbird will be back to normal very quickly.

To make up for the dearth of recent postings, here's a very late review of a gig I was lucky enough to catch at the beginning of the month. It was part of a very nice weekend away with Louise in Edinburgh, taking in the shops, culture and food. We both very much enjoyed simply 'being' there in a great old city, with so much of real value and quality. Compared to the parochial backwaters we normally inhabit, where you expect to run into a brontosaurus every time you go to the supermarket, it was like being in another world, and it's fair to say that the music enhanced rather than detracted from the weekend (the measure of a gig involving jazz and a relatively recent convert).

It was good to catch up with longstanding friend Andrew at the gig too. He lives, works, and raises a family in the city, and although he's a highly discerning jazz fiend, he's always been a bit of a Euro-sceptic in terms of his likes and dislikes. Would an Arild Andersen gig with Tommy Smith be a good idea, given his preference hot, spicy and American music? Bland Eurojazz, as glacial as the fjord laden vistas which inspire it could be as welcome as a shark in a swimming pool. With the main attraction being a rare UK gig by one of Norway's Big Four, and yours truly being the keeper of a blog that takes its name from one of their high watermarks, attendance was pretty much mandatory for all concerned.

Any anxieties were strictly unnecessary as it happened. Although this was very much Arild Andersen's trio, the music was mid-lantic and fiery enough to keep Andrew happy. The folkish themes appealed to Louise. The group's turn-on-a-dime shapeshifting agility was breathtaking, and needless to say it's one of the best gigs I've been at for some time. All of this sounds too much like a conclusion before I've even described the gig, so I suppose it's time to scratch my head and think back to events more than three weeks previous...

The group, a new-ish working unit emerging out of Andersen's association with Tommy Smith, has re-energised the music of both men, moving it in an unexpected though not illogical direction. A session has already been recorded and is slated for a November release by ECM, so you'll soon be able to judge for yourselves. Edinburgh's favourite '80s fashion victim (and by now undoubtedly a national treasure) Tommy Smith brought his regular drummer Alyn Cosker as the third side of the triangle. I gather that Andersen used a different drummer in earlier incarnations of the unit, and much was made during the gig of the fact that this was the debut outing of a brand new formation. Despite the lack of even a rehearsal, there were no signs of any unintentional raggedness, and it'll be interesting to see whether or not Cosker keeps the gig.

Covering ground from Tryptykon to sTar, echoes of Garbarek were never far away. Folkish melodies floated over brooding ethereal pulses, sometimes giving way to fusion-esque and Eastern grooves. There were many overtly jazzy passages, from lyrical balladry to post 'Trane jazz burnouts. Smith excelled in this context, melding his very Scottish musical sensibilities with all that Stateside Berklee training in an entirely convincing way. Yet the entire trio seamlessly blended a number of styles and influences into the performance. Avant-garde ECM stylings of the '70s, ancient folk melodies, post-'trane skronk and rhythms with a contemporary edge could all be heard hat various times during their 90 minute performance.

The music was the perfect synthesis of Andersen old and new. He's one of the few bassists in the world commanding enough to lead a trio such as this from the centre of the stage, and there was no doubting that this was his group, despite its very democratic nature. His huge sound was almost always enhanced when he reached for the effects rack, creating multi-track basslines to play over in much the same way as Eberhard Weber. Fragments of Ayler's 'Ghosts' were unmistakable during one of his absorbing arco introductions, and with Smith so ready to push his usual envelope, this trio really could take you anywhere. Cosker enjoys a good rumpus, but his sensitive colourations brought something ego-less and very, very right to the group sound.

Now it's probably time to reach some kind of conclusion. A very special evening in a beautiful old venue perched beneath the Castle Esplanade, followed by some mild South Indian cuisine. Perhaps too mild? Let's not be harsh, and it hardly matters as these things are all relative.

All in all the gig was just one part of a weekend that was a pleasure in it's entirety. The only frustrations came in having to keep the iPhone 3G I'd acquired earlier in the day in its box until we got home. Hard to do, but also very necessary. Oh, and then there were the hideous reminders of the new football season on the train on the way back the next day from the pack of barely human (and inevitably drunken) 'fans', who ruined the journey for many families and holiday makers who simply didn't need them at all. Such is life.

My internet connection is likely to be disrupted this week, but with my new Apple device fully up and running I can still blog. Whether or not I do depends on progress elsewhere, and with my living room gutted in readiness for a new floor which is being laid later this week it may be next weekend before I add anything else. I'm also doing the 'Fast Taste' round-up column for the magazine this issue, though only one CD has appeared as yet. That leaves me with a tough decision whether or not to write 2000 words about Zoe Rahman, but I hope to slip in a review of Michael Adkins brilliant new CD on hatOLOGY records, sent to me after reading this very page. Thanks for that Michael, and I will get something sorted soon...