Arild Andersen Trio ft. Tommy Smith

North Sea Jazz festival (Yenisei)

Saturday, July 13, 2019

text: Storm Bakker

image: Storm Bakker / Robin Boer

Among the many blues, hip hop and siso acts, we found our way at the North Sea Jazz festival. Because the amount of jazz and jazz rock at NSJ is waning every year, the stressful overchoice remains limited. In other words, it was not so difficult this year to pick out the ‘pearls before swine’ during this years event. We saw and heard Gary Bartz and Ravi Coltrane, Bobo Stenson Trio, Robert Glasper Trio (without the promised special guests), Arild Andersen Trio (with Tommy Smith) and finally the American supergroup Toto in the big Nile room. In between, we had time to eat something and to sag in a chair on the Mississippi Square. NSJ 2019, ProgJazz was there.


When we went through the festival line-up in advance, we penned firm circles around two concerts: Bobo Stenson Trio (with Anders Jormin) and Arild Andersen Trio (with Tommy Smith). Four of the most beautiful players of all time; players that you think of when asked which record you want to take to a deserted island; artists you want to profile if you can put together a ‘very best of European jazz’-show; artists of which Matthew wrote that this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations.

Arild Andersen

After Anders Jormin, whom we saw with Bobo Stenson, Arild Andersen was the second Scandinavian bass player we saw and heard at work tonight. Jormin and Andersen are exponents of what we call “Niels' Nephew”’, the startling Order of Double Bass Viking Knights. Andersen appeared on the scene alongside Jan Garbarek (1967-1973), George Russell and Bobo Stenson. He shared the stage with swingin’ cats like Sonny Rollins, Stan Getz, Phil Woods, Dexter Gordon and Johnny Griffin, but also with freely improvisers such as Terje Rypdal, Chick Corea, Don Cherry, Bill Frisell, Tomasz Stanko, Kenny Wheeler, Paul Motian, John Taylor, Alphonse Mouzon, Jon Christensen, Ralph Towner, John Marshall, Markus Stockhausen, Arve Henriksen, Bendik Hofseth and Nils Petter Molvær – to name a few! With Kirsten Bråten Berg (vocals and langeleik-zither) he made the album 'Sagn' (1991), one of the richest treasures of the Nordic 'fjords jazz'. And finally, last but not least, he plays with his lifelong comrade Tommy Smith, according to experts "the best saxophonist in the world, were he not for living in Scotland".

Tommy Smith

His life story reads like a modern Hibernian fairytale. He grew up in the insignificant Wester Hailes, a desolate region under the smoke of Edinburgh, consisting of purpose-built flats and tower blocks from the seventies. As the son of a musical father, who in vain wanted to interest him in drumming, he devoted his talent to saxophone. His first album was 'Ascension' by John Coltrane, the legendary hornist who - although Tommy first disliked it and wanted to bring the record back to the store - would remain his big example for the rest of his life. At the age of 14, Tommy won the International Jazz Award and thanks to the money gathered by his teacher, he ventured the crossing to Berklee in the US as a teenager. There, he was soon discovered by Chick Corea and included in Gary Burton's band. Meanwhile, he studied composition in Paris, presented a Jools Holland-like TV show for the BBC and played with artists like John Scofield, Jack deJohnette, Joe Lovano and with his own orchestra NSJO. Tommy Smith is one of the five Highlanders who have been awarded honorary degrees by the University of Edinburgh. Dr. Tommy Smith OBE is the founder and artistic director of Jazz at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.


Having said all this, we now come to talk about the concert in the intimate Yenisei room in Ahoy Rotterdam, a room with a low ceiling and a bar on the side, similar to a jazz club. There is nothing wrong with that in itself, (often, the best music is played in such rooms), but artists of this caliber just deserve larger rooms, such as the Madeira, serving wider recognition. We even saw the musicians bend over instinctively, not to bump their heads or instruments against the ceiling. Anyway, the music was fantastic in the Yenisei. The trio was nicely amplified, with a dash of ‘Fjord jazz reverb’ on the sax, but not too much, so that the listener sometimes thought that he was part of the group. The audience was full of respect and listened silently; the boys and girls behind the bar acted on mouse feet and they were virtuoso lip readers as well. We must say: North Sea Jazz has things in order in that respect.


The trio plays its own pieces and - like an appropriate ECM collective - also a few traditional folk songs. From these pieces we knew the ancient 'Yemini Song', which was started today by Andersen a bit slower than we (and Smith) were used to. The old Norwegian maestro made up for that, by gradually playing the uplifting theme in unison. These musicians are so talented and so well attuned to each other, that these types of unrepented performances can be brought to a successful end effortlessly. The 74-year-old Andersen is always calm and on every occasion laying a solid foundation, offering the young, frivolous Norwegian drummer Thomas Stronen to play freely in style of Paolo Vinaccia or Jon Christensen. Andersen occasionally turned on a wah-effect to honk out some driving funky bass lines; at another moment he used the looping effect to make layered music, accompanying himself, resulting in thin pads and patterns in the background while noodling lyrical bass melodies in the foreground. A trademark of Andersen, the magician.

Mind blowing

But, just like 33 years ago -when we first saw Tommy Smith with Gary Burton during NSJ in The Hague-, we were completely captivated by the eternally young Highlander Savior. Smith tickled our heart chambers for more than an hour, with his intense sound and beautiful note choice, his abstract blown natural tones, interspersed with mind-blowing jazz phrases, whether ultra-prestissimo or extreme-larghissimo crawling from his inner world to the surface. This cannot be said of every top saxophonist. Smith never looses control of the wheel. It is one of the elements that make Smith the reed blower from the highest outside category; in fact the most prominent torchbearer of John Coltrane, who is rightly mentioned in one sentence with Shorter, Brecker and Mariano. We will therefore speak more frequently about Tommy Smith on this website.

Rest in Peace

We went up to our friend after the concert, to talk about his current affairs, like always after briefly chatting on topic of that treacherous King Longshanks. Smith is in fact one of the leaders of the Scottish freedom struggle, which expresses itself in the title of his orchestral work 'Modern Jacobite'. "Again we're cohered by the English Parliament", he said, talking about the Brexit and the promises. Then we asked him about his emotional life and personal mind, for he was dressed in black, looking a little introverted, almost sad, not the broad chested man who blew us of our feet at our Festival de Muzen in 2012. It was indeed mourning that troubled him. The Italian Paolo Vinaccia, who has long been the drummer of the trio, passed away 8 days ago. The drummer, who moved to Norway in 1979, worked with great success on more than 100 albums (!!!), with artists such as Terje Rypdal, Bendik Hofseth, Palle Mikkelborg, Jonas Fjeld, Mike Mainieri and others. He made three records with Andersen and Smith, 'Mira' (2014) and 'Live' and 'In-House Science' (2018), while he was also part of the Arild Andersen Quartet (with Smith and pianist Makoto Ozone). Vinaccia has reached the age of 65.

Watch the full concert on the channel of Arild Andersen YouTube


photo: Robin Boer | edit STAB