Reviews: Electra (2005) | Arild Andersen
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Once spoken of along with Garbarek, Rypdal and Christensen as one of the “Big Four” of Scandinavian jazz, recent developments in the indigenous jazz of this fertile region have produced many new challengers to Andersen’s crown. … Electra amply fulfils the brief for a modern, fluid, and spacious sound-scape. Vocalists join the mix more as a choral texture than for any lyric purpose, leaving Henriksen’s plaintive trumpet as the de facto lead vocalist. … The longest and boldest piece on the disc, it exemplifies the seamless fusion of ancient and cutting edge materials. Andersen’s talents as a composer have rarely been so much in the spotlight… His precise, warmly resonant bass-lines sound as good as ever, and although Electra may be a long way from Afric Pepperbird, Andersen should be a vital cornerstone of any new Big Four for the 21st Century. Strongly recommended.

Fred Grand, Jazzreview

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There’s a feeling of wonder, to much of the enterprise: whispers glitter like frosty breath over Andersen’s rapidly ascending bass and percussion sparkles like unexpected snow. The two stars here are the leader whose authoritative, sympathetic playing is located at the heart of proceedings and Arve Henriksen whose breadth of expression on trumpet is astonishing. The success of the project may be attributed to the sympathy between the narrative’s tragic focus and the sense of mournful fatefulness found in much Norwegian music. Ultimately, the marriage of contemporary sounds and rhythms and Greek chorus, which lays its laments like a whisper upon the contemporary arrangements, is both thrilling and haunting.

Colin Buttmer, Jazzwise

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The score, originally commissioned for a Greek Production of Sophocles’ Electra, has a refreshing breadth and vulgarity. It also has the lopsided sprawl you associate with theatre or soundtrack albums. … Andersen’s cast of musicians includes percussionists Paolo Vinaccia and Patrice Héral, guitarist Eivind Aarset and trumpeter Arve Henriksen, whose otherworldly tone dominates the album. There is also some beautiful writing for voices – literally a Greek chorus. Through effects, loops and studio techniques, Andersen succeeds in conjuring a big palette of sounds from a small group of musicians.

John L Walters, The Guardian

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A modern score for a new production of the Greek tragedy Electra describes Norwegian bassist Arild Andersen’s latest ECM release, but that doesn’t give the whole picture. Electra is another lush-sounding offering from the Scandinavian contingent, which, at times, blends Asian and Nordic influences in equal measure. … Featuring drummers Paolo Vinaccia and Patrice Héral, the shakuhachi-like trumpet of Arve Henriksen and some haunting vocals underpinned by Andersen’s bass and Eivind Aarset’s textural guitar, this is a truly magnifincent CD.

Brent Keefe, Drummer

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With the exception of saxophonist Jan Garbarek, fellow Norwegian Arild Andersen–who has a considerably smaller discography as a leader–has created some of the ECM label’s most stylistically diverse music since the early 1970s. From exploring the nexus of traditional folk music and improvisation on Sagn to the fusion-centric Molde Concert, the spontaneous composition of Karta and the Nordic Cool-meets-string quartet of Hyperborean, Andersen has explored a host of different angles from which to approach his personal jazz-centricity. And by combining a deeply resonant pizzicato bass approach–owing as much to electric bassist Jaco Pastorius as to the more usual suspects–with the use of real-time looping and a lush arco style to create rich orchestral backwashes, Andersen’s voice rings loud and clear in any context.

In recent years, while exploring more openended possibilities in groups with Greek pianist Vassilis Tsaboropoulos, Swedish pianist Carsten Dahl, Hungarian-born guitarist Ferenc Snétberger, and German trumpeter Markus Stockhausen, Andersen’s own projects have demonstrated greater emphasis on form and arrangement. His latest release, Electra, is a strong consolidation and summation of these concerns, with his itinerant nature in Europe resulting in music that reflects the kind of cross-pollination that is perhaps only possible on a continent where relative distances are small.

A commission for Athens’ Spring Theatre, under the aegis of the Cultural Olympiad 2001-04, Electra creates its distinctive sonic landscape largely through the participation of Arve Henriksen–a fixture on the Norwegian scene whose shakuhachi-like trumpet reflected Jon Hassell as a starting point, but has since evolved into its own instantly recognizable voice–and Eivind Aarset, an anti-guitar hero who is more concerned with texture and sound sculpture than conventional licks and riffs. Add to the mix Paolo Vinaccia and Patrice Héral, as comfortable on hand percussion as they are traditional drum kits, and you have the potential for music that defies easy categorization.

And it’s richly realized. “Mourn” features Aarset’s “e-bone” guitar, sounding more like an Armenian duduk. The brief solo features for Henriksen, “One Note” and “Birth of the Universe,” are as removed as one could imagine from the instrument’s more conventional timbres. It’s that very surprising wealth of ambient textures created by Andersen, Henriksen, and Aarset that makes Electra such a constant surprise and delight. The addition of vocalists Savina Yannatou, Chrysanthi Douzi, Elly-Marina Casdas, and Fotini-Niki Grammenou allow Andersen to explore song form on the plaintive “Electra Song” and more atmospheric concerns on the four “Chorus” pieces.

In the same way that Garbarek’s recent In Praise of Dreams is hardly a jazz record, Electra–despite featuring improvisation as one underlying element–hardly fits conventional definition. Its blending of folk music, ambient electronica, pulsing rock rhythms, and haunting vocal lyricism defies easy categorization. The best scores stand on their own merits, and Electra needs no storyline to give it credibility. Its very diversity, out-of-the-box thinking and avoidance of predictable musical paths make it a compelling listen, start to finish.

Track Listing: Birth of the Universe; Mourn; The Big Lie; Chorus I; Electra Song Intro; Electra Song; Electra Song Outro; Chorus II; 7th Background; One Note; Whispers; Divine Command; Clytemnestr’s Entrance; Loud Sound; Chorus III; Opening; Chorus IV; Big Bang.

Personnel: Arve Henriksen: trumpet; Eivind Aarset: guitars; Paolo Vinaccia: drums, percussion; Patrice Héral: drums, percussion, voice; Nils Petter Molvær: drum programming; Savina Yannatou: vocal; Chrysanthi Duuzi: vocal; Elly-Marina Casdas: chorus vocal; Fotini-Niki Grammenou: chorus vocal; Arild Andersen: double-bass, drum programming.

By John Kelman, CD Review Center

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