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Sunday, September 6, 2015

Gard Nilssen's Acoustic Unity - Firehouse (Clean Feed, 2015) *****

By Joel Barela

A recommendation: get this album, plug in, crank the volume and find something to busy your eyes and hands. That’s not to say this is capable background music. On the contrary, it’s a rush to the forefront that enhances every little movement. Just this week, I’ve used it to drive, to cook, to dance with my wife, and yes, to leave the world behind for a few blistering half hours. The story goes: Gard Nilssen, a longtime fan of both saxophonist André Roligheten and bassist Petter Eldh, found himself in Oslo at the same time as the other two European-circuit men. He asked and they agreed to link up in the studio one summer night. No rehearsals, no charts. That the product of the meeting is something so groove-wound is both surprising and perhaps the only way it could have been.

Throughout the opening three song salvo of 'When Pigs Fly', 'Roundtrip' and 'Adam’s Ale', we’re treated to sounds of intense complexity that never become academic. No matter how insistent Nilssen’s rolls become or how revelatory Roligheten’s responses, the tunes thrive because of their soul. It’s a powerhouse opening that gives way to a more languid 'Salad Days' before Eldh’s bass – tethered and purposeful to start – comes stomping back in to the track around the 1:30 mark following Nilssen’s stabs at the original theme. And just as the tune lays itself down to rest, the band roars back with the thunderous and race-like 'Mojo'. An exhilarating juxtaposition, the movement from 'Salad Days' to 'Mojo' feeds the back half of the album, from Roligheten’s spirited blasts on 'The Resistance' to Eldh’s insistent pulls at Nilssen’s kit to close 'Life, Somewhere Before the Exit Sign'.

Perhaps there lacks enough invention amidst the improvisation - or enough reinvention, given the influences. But it's accessibility is deceiving. They aren't playing down to less discerning ears as much as conjuring something so relatable simply because it doesn't lose its grip on melody in its prevailing physicality. The "Acoustic" is fitting for more than just fidelity to instrumentation; it's the sound of three friends finding that ‘cosmic nod’. By his own estimation, Nilssen said it only took around six hours to construct. There’s a lot to be lost in a variety of ways from that studio in Oslo to my computer in New Orleans; but, when Nilssen calls the sessions “pure magic,” there’s little between us but agreement and, for my part, thanks.