Tommy Smith/ Arild Andersen * * * *
at the Midland Arts Centre
Review by Peter Bacon
In 1905 Norway was liberated from its union with Sweden. A hundred years later Norwegian double bassist Arild Andersen wrote a piece in celebration for that event and, of course, it is only natural to hear it now played in duo with a Scot, the saxophonist Tommy Smith.
It's called Independency and took up the lengthy and fascinating first half.
At the risk of interpreting the piece too literally, the title does, in its references to both independence and to dependency, highlight the way in which jazz players interact in a group: while they are always dependent upon each other they are always, in their improvisations, stressing their independence, too.
And so it was in Independency. Andersen is not just happy playing solo, he builds up layers of himself with the help of digital loops – lush string sections with added percussive beats courtesy of striking the strings near the bridge.
Smith has taken to electronics as well, though his strength lies in his conventional playing and the section where he built up a multiple brass riff felt like something wandering in from an entirely different piece of music.
As a demonstration of what the saxophone is capable of, this was something of a masterclass. Smith's mastery of whole areas above the instrument's normal range, and then to draw such sweet, pure notes from that stratosphere, simply takes the breath away.
The second half, equally generous in length, jumped back and forth between Andersen's interpretations of Norwegian folk music and the Scottish folk influences in Smith's music.
This was the last date of a short Scottish and English tour, and the pair were clearly reluctant to part. Let's hope this enriching music will turn up on disc before too long.