Saturday, July 9, 2016

Bobo Stenson - 1971 - Underwear

Bobo Stenson 

01 - Underwear 07:41.55
02 - Luberon   09:19.65
03 - Test      03:38.55
04 - Tant W    08:55.60
05 - Untitled  03:57.40
06 - Rudolf    06:12.40

Bobo Stenson: Piano
Arild Andersen: Bass, Cello, Guitar
Jon Christensen: Percussion

Recorded May 18 & 19, 1971 at the Bendiksen Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher
ECM  1012


This LP from ECM's early days finds Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson leading bassist Arild Andersen and drummer Jon Christensen in a program of uncompromising, collectively improvised post-bop. Andersen is prominent in the mix and plays just tons, all of it totally relevant to the music. Christensen provides structure, drawing on his breathtaking talent to contribute a dazzling range of color, a deft, flawless pulse, and fresh rhythmic ideas for the pianist and bassist. Stenson stakes out a middle ground, communicating closely with his partners and underpinning the group with subtle cues and harmonic shifts. Stenson's title track, a great post-bop, piano-bass-drum performance, goes for broke, but with discipline and a shared sense of purpose. From delicate beginnings, the pianist's two ballads, "Luberon" and "Tant W.," build steadily in power and intensity. Ornette Coleman's "Untitled" gets a short, manic workout, reminiscent of pianist Keith Jarrett's involvement with Coleman's music. "Test" is a mesmerizing piano vamp, over which Andersen adds arco effects, as Stenson strums and plucks from inside the piano, and Christensen busies himself with miscellaneous percussion toys. The concluding track, "Rudolf," is an Andersen reworking of Miles Davis' "Mademoiselle Mabry." Although structured as a piano trio, this set's main attraction is the opportunity to hear, up close, the enormous talents of Christensen and Andersen. That, in turn, though, says something about the egalitarian spirit of Stenson. — Jim Todd

With such a solid trio of musicians and a name like Underwear, you just know this one’s going to be good. And sure enough, Stenson kicks things off just right with the spirited title track, throughout which every instrument bubbles in a witches brew of fine flavors. Exuberant drumming, flurried bass lines, and a tightly knit sense of composition make this one of the great openers of ECM’s extensive jazz lineup. Hot on its heels is “Luberon,” the album’s requisite ballad, the placement of which both emphasizes the liveliness of the opener while also bolstering its own lyrical sensibilities. “Test” lays on a more organic sound of percussion and scraped piano strings. This delicate backdrop continues as Stenson breaks into a clearly defined melodic improvisation, prompting cries of ecstatic joy before succumbing to a forced fadeout. “Tant W.” brings us into more laid-back territory with its alluring conversation between piano and drums. Once the bass joins in, the groove becomes certifiably infectious. After this block of Stenson originals, we are treated to a pair of fine closers. Ornette Coleman’s “Untitled” runs with reckless abandon through frenzied pyrotechnics, priming us for the comforting “Rudolf” (Andersen). The latter’s fluid piano intro becomes the heart of the piece, echoing in an otherwise bass-dominant space.

Stenson is entirely on point, as if he were inborn with a finely attuned sense of melody and articulation. His playing is democratic and guides with a gentle hand, always managing to cover so much of the keyboard in a single cut. Andersen’s busy fingers provide the album’s backbone, while his gorgeous vibrato and twang-ridden charm work wonders in the softer moments. And Christensen’s drumming never fails to excite. Triply inspired soloing and a synergistic core make Underwear a prime choice for the ECM newbie and veteran alike. A simply fantastic album, this is one for the ages.