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Friday, January 10, 2014

Bobby Bradford, Frode Gjerstad and Paal Nilssen-Love – Dragon (PNL, 2012) ****

By Troy Dostert

The personnel on this fine album won’t be strangers to most readers of this blog.  Drummer phenom Nilssen-Love, of course, was just featured here a few weeks ago in several of his varied projects, and this is yet another of them.  He’s recorded with cornet legend Bobby Bradford and alto sax/clarinetist Frode Gjerstad before, along with  Ingebrigt Håker Flaten on bass, in a group that in 2012 released Kampen (see Martin Schray’s fine review).  The difference here is that this recording, documented live in 2010 at Klub Dragon in Poland, is lacking Håker Flaten, who according to Gjerstad was late in arriving to the show.  So it’s essentially a trio recording instead of a quartet.  The result is no less interesting, however, and indeed the close conversation between Gjerstad and Bradford is arguably enhanced as a result of the slightly pared-down grouping.

The record isn’t a burner, with the players generally preferring a gentler rapport to more fiery exchanges.  But that isn’t to say that the music lacks energy.  Nilssen-Love does more than enough to provide a nice bounce to the tracks with his inventive and diverse rhythmic patterns, particularly noticeable on the first track, “Pitaya,” which at over eleven minutes is the longest cut on the record.  He establishes a pulse quite effectively during the first portion, with punchy use of the snare on both sticks and brushes as Gjerstad and Bradford get settled by exploring their terrain through intertwining lines.  Then, as they bring things down a bit with a softer section in the middle of the track, Nilssen-Love’s skittering brushwork gently guides the others forward—a terrific example of the distinctive sensitivity of his playing.  Finally, the track generates some steam toward the end, with Nilssen-Love building his rhythmic patterns around the lines created by Gjerstad and Bradford.  It’s a fascinating track, sustaining interest throughout with the creativity of all three players.

The remaining tracks offer much of the same generous, sympathetic collaboration, with excellent contributions from Gjerstad and Bradford.  Gjerstad’s range on the clarinet is striking; his technique on the second track, “Pogona,” is exceptional in its use of the upper register of the instrument.  His alto playing is nothing to sneeze at either, with impressive flurries of notes that manage somehow to stay locked into the group’s collective conversation.  And Bradford, close to 80 years old now, is a remarkably nimble presence as well, with some particularly vigorous and dynamic playing on “Dracaena,” the album’s fifth track.  But there’s no question that Nilssen-Love is the glue that holds this group together.  He’s a more restrained presence on the third track, “Draco,” and consequently at moments the music seems to lose its sense of direction—as though the others were waiting for Nilssen-Love to provide a more overt point of orientation.  This cut aside, however, the album as a whole is a definite success, with all three musicians producing a strong statement of freely improvised collaboration that is highly listenable and a joy to experience.


Martin Schray said...

Thanks for reviewing this album, Troy. I agree with everything you say. It has been one of my favorites from 2012 and it is a great complement to "Kampen" on NoBusiness.