Boneshaker is a small yet very powerful group in which drummer and percussionist Paal Nilssen-Love is involved. Nilssen-Love who’s playing with ‘everyone’ on the free jazz scene (The Thing, Frode Gjerstad Trio, Large Unit, Pan-Scan Ensemble) seem to have a bit more hours in a day than the rest of us. In addition to being part of an impressive number of small and big groups, he’s also running his own record label; PNL Records and is a co-organizer of the annual All Ears festival in Oslo, Norway.
In Boneshaker PNL is joined by Mars Williams on reeds and toy instruments and Kent Kessler on bass. Mars who’s impressive CV reveals a grammy nominated musician with collaborations spanning across a broad range of genres and artists. On the free jazz scene he has played with Peter Brötzmann, Mats Gustafsson, Joe McPhee and Ken Vandermark just to mention a selected few. He can be heard with the Vandermark 5, Chicago Reed Quartet but also with the grammy nominated group ‘Liquid Soul’ who’s 20+ years history is well worth considering.
Last but definitely not least bass player Kent Kessler who can be heard on many highly regarded albums reviewed here on FJB (DEK Trio, Rodrigo Amado, and Peter Brötzmann’s Tentet) and who I must admit I haven’t paid enough attention to.
The album kicks starts with PNL leading the way on the 14 minute song ‘Brain Freeze’ and then it just takes off. Boneshaker truly makes the bones shake. This is full throttle free jazz right from the start. Variations in tempo, short improvised melody lines with the trio traveling together with sudden bursts of energy, all comes together in an intense mix. But suddenly they seem to run out of notes and Kessler is left alone. Slowly but surely he’s painting a relaxed picture of sounds up and down the scale. Then Nilssen-Love and Williams joins in. They’re tip-toeing carefully through the soundstage as to not awaken the beast. I’m like a cat on hot bricks waiting for things to explode. I’ve heard these musicians before. They’re not afraid of waiting for just the right moment for the hammer to fall. But I’m left wondering if this was their intention. The song stops. Baffling!
The second song, ‘Puffy Fluffy’ brings me back to reality immediately. Kessler, Williams and Nilssen-Love gives me an exhausting 6 minute show-down. It’s like three trains going full speed ahead as a unified whole, yet each on its own track. During the last minute they ascend to the surface and slowly come to a halt.
The third track; ‘Salty Fruity’ is a different creature entirely. It starts off dark, with bells, cracks and chirps. Kesslers bow provides a dark foundation beneath it all. Then there’s suddenly what sounds like a dentist drill (scary!) and more trills, cheeps and warbling. We’re taken to a very dark place and I’m left alone waiting for what will come next. A sad melody line from Williams travels through thin air but only briefly. Nilssen-Love takes the song into a different direction. Williams joins back to the changed scenery. And then the trio are all dancing together. I’d say this is free and improvised music when it is at its very best. Unexpected turns, changes in tempo, intensity and in character.
The fourth and final song on this album is the 5 minute ‘Wabi-Sabi’. This has Williams presenting questions or perhaps statements over the first minute. PNL provides both structure but also dissonance yet without disturbing Williams who comes into full bloom half-way through the performance. Boneshaker ends this great album vibrating and shivering at a calmer pace. Highly recommended.