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Andersen; Arild: Celebration

Having lived in Scotland all my life you'd think I would be aware of the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, but I have to admit that to my shame and subsequent delight, Celebration by bassist Arild Andersen and the SNJO is my first encounter with this tremendous big band ensemble. An idea that was originally conceived for the 40th anniversary of jazz/world music specialist label ECM, the show that this album is a recording of took place in 2010, so quite why it has taken the best part of two years to see the light of day, I'm not sure - although I am glad this Arild Andersen led venture finally has received this release. Unusually for a musician fronting this sort of venture, Andersen plays double bass throughout, not always the most readily thought of solo instrument. However in truth, while his efforts do sit front and centre for much of the six song, hour long endeavour, it is the manner in which his tasteful, dextrous playing combines with the stunning band backing him that takes an idea that could have been extremely niche and allows it to blossom into quite a wonderful undertaking.

Personally I've found with most, although not quite all live jazz recordings, the overriding feeling you come away with is that no matter how engaging the experience is, the CD is still a long way short of being there in person. A fate that in concert rock albums seem to suffer far less from. However, while still true of Celebration, this is an album far readier to reveal a mixture of beauty, poise, drama and virtuosity than most I've heard in this setting. Often long solo excursions can feel remote, impressive, yet slightly tedious in this genre, but with the mix of brass, piano, drums and a second double bass backing Arild, even the longer individual parts on Celebration have a myriad of focuses and backings, never leaving you bored or disconnected. Andersen himself is skilled and thoughtful in his playing, but then so are the SNJO, with "May Dance", blasting along with soaring sax, pounding percussion and dangerous double bass, while "Molde Canticle, Part 1" soothes in a mysterious manner, leaving you transfixed as differing outlooks and approaches segue into and out of view enigmatically. "Crystal Silence" adds another layer of dark foreboding to what has come before, with an almost Eastern influence oozing out of the more traditional instruments, before "Ulrikas Dans" brings a more percussive slant - and a fantastic sax-brass exchange - to the atmospheric style.

The long meander of "Independency, Part 4" does get lost a little in its own twisting, turning themes, although a stunning drum kit explosion courtesy of Alyn Cosker certainly holds the attention, before a sexy sax and bass battle conjures up images of brutish fighting and brash behaviour. The slow build of "My Song" brings things to a more structured close, with the full ensemble working together to stunning, maximum effect.

An album to lose yourself in, Celebration is aptly named and beautifully performed. And yes, I do wish I had been there, especially when "there" was only fifty miles down the road from home...

Track Listing
1. May Dance
2. Molde Canticle, Part 1
3. Crystal Silence
4. Ulrikas Dans
5. Independency, Part 4
6. My Song

Added: October 1st 2012
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Arild Andersen Online
Hits: 1799
Language: english

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