One Track Mind: Arild Andersen with Bill Frisell, "Dual Mr. Anthony Tillmon Williams" (1981)
By S. Victor Aaron
Some time ago...two years and three months ago to be more precise...we raved on the double-bass mastery of the Norwegian ECM Records mainstay Arild Andersen, and noted then that he may not be the first name that comes up when one thinks of the greatest living acoustic bassists, but he's at least earned the right to be considered somewhere on that list." This is a One Track Mind where you might say that little-known genius is the recurring theme.
Back in 1981, Andersen led a dynamic quartet for a performance at one of Europe's oldest annual jazz festivals, located in Molde, Norway. Joining Andersen was drummer Alphonse Mouzon, pianist John Taylor and a young, still-emerging Bill Frisell on guitar. This was documented on the superb ECM recording A Molde Concert, which is sadly is currently only available in the USA as an import for those wanting physical copies.
Officially, the billing for this record doesn't read with Bill Frisell" on it, that's my own tag, to reflect the subsequent arrival of Frisell as some kind of a superstar in jazz and guitarist circles. Back in the early 80s as a member of Andersen's band, he was little known with no records of his own out, and before that year, the only thing I can find in his recording credits is on Eberhard Weber's Fluid Rustle. Though one could have casually confused him for John Abercrombie at that time, some of the components of Frisell's singular sonic makeup were already present: playing a rock guitar, his notes quavered and resonated with a country moan, and even this early on he cared a lot about the harmonics of his sound, holding out notes for maximum impact where it made the most sense.
As for selection, Dual Mr. Anthony Tillmon Williams Process"the full name of the songstarted out unknown and for the large part, remains unknown. A composition originally recorded by Miles and his ever-changing quintet in the fall of 1968, it was part of some furious experimenting he was engaged in at the time in an effort to concoct that perfect blend of jazz and contemporary music forms. Named after his soon-to-be departing drummer Tony Williams, Dual" didn't make onto the final results of all that tinkering that culminated in In A Silent Way (1969), so Columbia Records cobbled together this and other orphaned recordings into the odd and ends Water Babies record of 1977. Four years later, Andersen and his band uncorked a fairly faithful rendition this song at the end of his Molde set.
The song itself is a little odd in that it's built on a jaunty, start/stop bass riff, not the plodding, rigid gait of most of Miles' early fusion work. The repeating themean extended vamp, reallygoes from a nomadic, descending chord pattern to a straighter ascending one, and I'd imagine Anderson must have seen this as a fun bass song to play bass on. The drumming part, which follows the bass and has plenty of opportunities for fills, gives Mouzon a nice sandbox to play in, too. Less dynamic than Williams but much funkier, he gives the tune some more punch than the original, and ends up soloing underneath by the end. Taylor is the major soloist; though Frisell stays in a comping role, he's able to supply a rock edge that was only implicit in the guitar-less 1968 version.
The leads aren't particularly memorable, but the ensemble playing is tight and everyone seems to be having a ball on the song, and the crowd (who likely had no idea who was being covered) seemed to catch on to the festive mood, too. It just goes to show that even some of Miles Davis' chaff can be used to make a delectable cake for others.