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Monday, September 9, 2019

The Quintet - Events 1998-1999 (PNL, 2019) *****

The limited-edition (500 copies) 5-disc box-set Events 1998-1999 chronicles a defining time in the history of the Norwegian free jazz - the passing of the spirit from two legendary, father-figures of the Nordic scene - bass player Bjørnar Andresen (born in 1945) and alto sax player Carl Magnus ‘Calle’ Neumann (born in 1944) - to three young musicians from the vibrant Oslo scene - drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, already then the tireless and resourceful driving force that he is still today and the one responsible for the compilation of this box-set and its release on his own PNL label, guitarist Ketil Gutvik, who continues to collaborate with Nilssen-Love in his Large Unit, and double bass player Eivind Opsvik, shortly before he relocated to New York.

Neumann and Andresen played in the most important outfits and albums of Norwegian free jazz of the late sixties and early seventies, shortly before Norwegian jazz caught global attention, but there are not many recordings of them playing free-improvised. Andresen recorded with local heroes as the Svein Finnerud Trio (including the iconic Plastic Sun, with drummer Espen Rud, 1970, reissued by Odin, 2018), guitarist Terje Rypdal (the self-titled, debut album for ECM, 1971), recorded sax player Jan Garbarek’s sophmore album (Esoteric Circle, with Rypdal, bass player Arild Andersen and drummer Jon Christensen, Flying Dutchman, 1971) and played in the Scandinavian group of American composer George Russell (Listen to the Silence, Concept, 1973, with Garbarek, Andersen, Christensen and Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson) and few decades later with Crimetime Orchestra (his final recording, Life is a Beautiful Monster, Jazzaway, 2005, with keyboards player Bugge Wesseltoft, sax player Kjetil Møster, bass player Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and Nilssen-Love among others). Neumann played on Rypdal’s debut album (Bleak House, Polydor, 1968), the Svein Finnerud Trio (Multimal with poet Trond Botnen, Polydor, 1973). Both Neumann and Andresen were considered quite eccentric, outspoken and “somewhat out of control” characters (Andresen used to go on stage during young bands performances, grabbing the microphone and explaining the music to the audience), and already retired from music business several times before Nilssen-Love convinced them to team with him and his comrades.

The Quintet released only one album during the short time it was active, the out-of-print March 28, 1999 (bp, 1999), documenting The Quintet second live performance at the Vossajazz festival. Events 1998-1999 - literally - set the record straight about this unique group for its 20th anniversary, and adds four previously unreleased studio and live recordings, believed lost even by members of The Quintet, extensive and insightful liner notes, including by Nilssen-Love remembering Andresen (he dedicated his duo album with Ken Vandermark, Seven, Smalltown Superjazz, 2006, to Andresen), Gutvik interviewed by Lasse Marhaug (who co-produced the box-set with Nilssen-Love, mastered the original recordings and designed the artwork) and Arild Andersen conversation with Nilssen-Love. Many others - relatives (mainly Ospvik’s father, Peter), musicians, photographers, journalists and festivals and clubs directors and curators, sound engineers and anyone who played even a small part in The Quintet’s exciting times - contributed anecdotes (like: Nilssen-Love was apparently pissed off with Gutvik's playing, but kept encouraging him with tapes of music he thought Gutvik needed to hear) and stories (including the one about its farmer’s groove, i.e, Nilssen-Love played a rolling groove on top and the two bass players create a rumbling, mystical groove underneath it, like an old tractor driving on uneven ground), details about the discographies of Neumann and Andresen and rare photos to this box-set.

But the story of The Quintet is not over yet. Andresen died in October 2nd, 2004, but the remaining members of The Quintet, including Neumann back, again, from retirement and with double bass player Per Zanussi, have reunited for the last, ‘comeback’ performance at this summer's edition of the Oslo Jazz Festival, to mark the release of Events 1998-1999. Nilssen-Love says that after the soundcheck, “we will all visit Bjørnar’s grave, say hello and pay our respects, then go back to the venue and perform what will be our very last concert as The Quintet”.

Events 1998-1999 emphasizes that the music of The Quintet still sounds fresh and powerful. The 
Quintet was a truly democratic unit, with no rules or prescription where the music should go, just letting the music happen. The first disc is a 45-minutes session recorded at Opsvik’s father, the furniture designer Peter Opsvik’s showroom in Oslo in July 8th, 1998. Neumann’s soulful, Ornette Coleman-ish tone set the emphatic, searching atmosphere of this session while Andresen’s deep-toned rumbling and sudden vocalizations cement the intense commotion. Nilssen-Love already has a dominant role in shaping the energetic dynamics of The Quintet and Gutvik rounds these dynamics with melodic, jazzy lines.

The second disc features four improvisations that were recorded for the Norwegian Broadcasting Service’s (NRK) Radio, in Oslo in March 19th, 1999. The Quintet sounds in its element and in top free form. The music flows in a free-associative mode and Gutvik sounds now as if he has done a quantum leap into totally, free-idiomatic mode. Andresen, Opsvik and Nilssen-Love build layer upon layer of percolating rhythmic patterns, including the introduction of the famous farmer’s groove on the second improvisation, while Neumann keep soaring brilliantly high above.

The third disc is the March 28, 1999 recording from Fraktgodsen, Voss, mastered by Audun Strype. The Quintet began there its triumphant set of performances in the major jazz festivals of Norway, soon to headline the Oslo and Molde jazz festivals. The quintet was in a perfect spiritual form and played two extended pieces. On the first piece The Quintet builds patiently its powerful rhythmic interplay towards the ecstatic, climatic coda. Andresen, Opsvik and Nilssen-Love demonstrate the uplifting effectiveness of their farmer’s groove on the second piece, pushing Neumann and Opsvik to some beautiful, highly emotional dances, again, up until the cathartic conclusion.

The fourth disc is from the Blå club during the Oslo Jazz Festival in August 14th, 1999. The Quintet has to win over a talkative but apparently appreciative audience that just needed more and more from doses of its potent rhythmic recipe, especially of the unstoppable Andresen who simply plays all over his bass. Opsvik suggests a surprising lyrical vein mid-piece the first improvisation with gentle and 
emotional arco playing, soon to be joined by Neumann, but Andresen insists on keeping shaping the multilayered groove. Andresen even keeps the audience amused with some jokes on the second piece.

The fifth and last disc recorded at USF, Bergen JazzForum in October 29th, 1999, with Zanussi replacing Opsvik, who moved to New York to pursue his studies. Nilssen-Love takes the lead and offers a tough and fierce course from the very beginning until the end of this set, pushing the others to a highly intense interplay but one that surprisingly also unearth a strong bluesy vein. Neumann rides freely on Nilssen-Love’s fast-shifting pulse with his soulful-singing Coleman-ish tone, Gutvik fully justifies Nilssen-Love trust in him and Andresen and Zanussi suggest their version of the farmer’s groove on the last piece. The Quintet played again in the DølaJazz festival in Lillehammer in 2000 but all musicians felt that it had run it course by then.

Five stars not only for the great music, but also for filling the missing historic link, the generous liner notes and the immeasurable love and passion invested in the research and production of this box-set.


tony verstraete said...

Available from