Arild Andersen: Achirana
Arild Andersen Vassilis Tsabropoulos John Marshall
Achirana introduces a special trio formed by bassist Arild Andersen with pianist Vassilis Tsabropoulos and drummer John Marshall. Although the great Tsabropoulos is equally grounded in classical performance and composition, his improvisation, Andersen says, is completely independent. His well-rounded verve and ability to blend in while maintaining an inherent melodic drive make this ECM debut a thoughtful contribution. However, he leaves us with a little too much to process in the end. More on that below. Tsabropoulos' melodic gifts are immediately evident in the whispered clusters with which he begins the title opener. A wistful thought, a tangle of hair on the back of the neck, a loose ribbon blown by the wind: these are the small images these gestures create. Andersen's playing is poignant and condenses with such flair, magisterial yet compressed like a drop, that the facets of "Diamond Cut Diamond" glitter with all the greater beauty. In this dance of thread and needle, Andersen resonates with mercurial depths. His heavy eighth notes are like giant arrows in the darkness, each brandished from a fallen tree and fletched by wandering dreams that leave their spurs behind to sprout, fly and truly strike their targets. Yet these are not weapons, but instruments of writing that enter "Valley" with their watery dreams fully intact. Tracks like this illustrate the key element of the album: namely, its ability to make the ineffable audible. Andersen's commanding solo playing says it all, as does his supple reinterpretation of the Norwegian folk song "She's Gone." The rest of the album consists of Tsabropoulos' own compositions, of which the expanse of "The Spell" and the soaring of "Fable" stand out for their pathos. He allows the music to breathe with such reverence for the act of bringing it to life that he feels more like a ghost as the set progresses. On the last two pieces ("Song for Phyllis" and "Monologue"), he feels like an undetectable edge on a Rothko canvas: nothing seems to separate his playing from its surroundings. It's not like a jazz musician has to be upside down. Still, you want to feel something you can embrace, and sometimes Tsabropoulos plays a little too smoky. Compared to, say, John Taylor's work with Peter Erskine and Palle Danielsson (documented on Time Being, As It Is and JUNI), the surface of Achirana is rather uniform. This is not necessarily a drawback, but it may help you decide whether Achirana is for you or not. In any case, it's a unique piece of pianism and the defining mark of a musician who has now grown into his skin as an improviser. In this respect, the trio's follow-up, The Triangle, is the ultimate, not to mention Tsabropoulos' wonderful solo album Akroasis. Aside from the fact that Tsabropoulos' name tops the list, this is an Andersen record through and through. In addition to his creative playing, the bassist's creative listening is evident throughout, while Tsabropoulos tends to fill space wherever he can find it. The difference in approach is startling and proves that in jazz, it's what you don't play that matters more. Not to be forgotten are Marshall's luminous contributions, which give the listener further access to that unnameable, sonorous inkwell into which all masters of the art dip their nibs. In this respect, Edward Bulwer-Lytton was only half right when he said that the pen is mightier than the sword, for what the pen leaves behind is mightier than either, as is the leaf, without which these marks may never reach us.