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Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Latest Releases from Paal Nilssen-Love

Norwegian drummer-bandleader-label owner Paal Nilssen-Love needs no introduction. He is still one of the busiest musicians on the planet, and these five new releases of him offer only a glimpse of his many projects and hyperactive schedule.

Large Unit & Fendika - EthioBraz (PNL, 2019) *****

The last album of Large Unit promised more fun (More Fun Please, PNL, 2018) and its performance in the 2018 edition of the Norwegian Molde Jazz Festival was a good opportunity to deliver even more fun. The Large Unit met with the Ethiopian dance-music ensemble Fendika and special guest guitarist Terrie Ex plus two Brazilian percussionists, Paulinho Bicolor and Celio de Carvalho, who already joined its performances in the past. This one-off summit brought together two relatively new yet formative influences on Nilssen-Love - the Ethiopian music scene, since his first trip to Ethiopia was with The Ex in December 2009, and the Brazilian music, since his first trip to Brazil in June 2013. The music he created for the Large Unit was heavily informed by these trips and he fused beautifully these foreign sensibilities to the powerful and driving Large Unit sound.

EthioBraz celebrates Large Unit five years of work with 22 musicians and dancers on stage. This performance may be the most accessible in Nilssen-Love’s extensive discography, and, no doubt, the first one that ordinary people can dance with it all the way through. The spirit is openly emotional and sensual, cemented in the innocent vocals of Nardos Tesfaye, layers of driving, upbeat Brazilian-African-free jazz rhythmic patterns and many burning-singing solos of the Large Unit musicians. You may some of the classic Ethiopian songs as “Anbessa”. “Gue” , “Shellele” and “Tezeta” from The Ex collaborations with late Ethiopian sax legend Gétatchèw Mèkurya and Fendika, but I can guarantee that it would not stop you from joining the addictive call-and-answer choruses, or from attempting to mimic some of song lyrics and dance as if there is no tomorrow. Nilssen-Love plans to take this crazy, joyful celebration on the road in the summer of 2020. You should perfect your dance moves by then.

Mats Äleklint / Per-Åke Holmlander / Paal Nilssen-Love - Fish & Steel (PNL, 2019) ****

Swedish trombonist Mats Äleklint and tuba player Per-Åke Holmlander serve as the natural choice of trombone and tuba players choice in few leading Scandinavian bands as Angles 9 and 10 or Fire! Orchestra, and also play together in the Large Unit. But their Fish & Steel trio suggests an unusual and fresh Scandinavian take on nowadays free music, avoiding the cliches of free jazz outfits with reeds or double bass. The debut album of this trio was recorded live in concert as part of the Blow Out concert series at Kafé Hærverk, Oslo, and at Sångbolaget, Stockholm, during a short tour in the fall of 2018.

The intimate setting allows these heavy-weight, highly versatile improvisers to take more risks and experience new, free-improvised dynamics, all in a very playful manner with surprising, eccentric sense of humor. The low-end range of the tuba and trombone offers endless opportunities for Äleklint and Holmlander to dive in and out of dark and abstract drone seas, maybe in an endless search for big, bass-sounding fish, but also to explore gentle, lyrical sides. Both of them trust the sharp, kind of steel energy of Nilssen-Love that will eventually gravitate this trio into solid ground, crisscrossing many fascinating courses with his powerful, driving drumming. The first piece “Blow Out” constantly shifts its dynamics but the second one “Sångbolaget” launches with a ballistic, free jazz, spiritual force, with Äleklint’s trumpet-like blows, Holmlander twisted bass role and Nilssen-Love as a nuclear, rhythmic dynamo, and just keeps intensifying its mad, playful power.

Joe McPhee & Paal Nilssen-Love - Song for the Big Chief (PNL, 2019) ****½

Legendary sax and pocket trumpet player Joe McPhee first teamed up with Nilssen-Love on The Thing’s She Knows (Crazy Wisdom, 2001) and since then they both have collaborated in numerous constellations and outfits, including as a duo that released the eponymous 7-discs box-set Candy (PNL, 2015), that documented the duo development between the years 2007 and 2014. Song for the Big Chief was recorded on December 9, 2017 at Cafe OTO, London, a day after the drummer Sunny Murray passed away. Murray had been a huge influence and inspiration for both McPhee and Nilssen-Love, and the album is dedicated to “the memory of one of the great giants of free music”. The artwork of this recording references Murray’s classic Big Chief (Pathé, 1969, re-released by Eremite, 2009).

Obviously, the spirit of this performance was emotional and elegiac. McPhee begins with one of his beloved covers, Jerome Kern & Oscar Hammerstein’s “Old Man River”, already performed by his Trio X and more recently by the DKV Trio with McPhee, now titled as “Song for the Big Chief”. He sings-cries the simple melody through his tenor sax with moving poetic power. Nilssen-Love joins him after five minutes and intensifies the emotional drama with dense and muscular polyrhythmic textures, but knows when to leave McPhee alone to recite-reflect on this memorable melody and when to take the lead and resonate McPhee’s reflections with imaginative percussive ideas that incorporate Brazilian touches. The second piece is McPhee “Knox”, first performed on his classic Tenor (HatHut, 1977) and later on other recordings (Ken Vandermark's Topology Nonet with McPhee, Impressions Of PO Music, Okka disk, 2013; McPhee’s solo Flowers, Cipsela, 2016; and DKV Trio & Joe McPhee, The Fire Each Time, Not Two, 2019), where McPhee and Nilssen-Love create a playful, upbeat and conversational interplay around this beautiful theme. Nilssen-Love introduces the last, short “A Fantasy for Lester” with low and quiet scratching sounds on the skins and metal surfaces of his srt, answered with unworldly, meditative trumpet voicing by McPhee, before both gravitate for a brief playful interplay. Fantastic, indeed.

Of Things Beyond Thule - Volume 1 (Aerophonic, 2020) ****½

Thule is the farthest north location mentioned in the Greek and Roman literature. Of Things Beyond Thule is a collaborative, free-improvising quintet featuring McPhee, Nilssen-Love, Chicagoan sax player Dave Rempis (who plays with Nilssen-Love in the Ballister trio), cellist Tomeka Reid (who plays with Rempis in a trio with bass player Joshua Abrams) and double bass player Brandon Lopez (who plays with Rempis in a trio with percussionist Ryan Packard), captured live (second set of the quintet) at Chicago’s Hungry Brain club in December 2018. Volume 1 is released on Rempis’ label as limited-edition of 330 vinyls (with no digital downloads, discs, cassettes or re-pressings), with a psychedelic color gradient design by Johnathan Crawford.

McPhee is the natural leader Of Things Beyond Thule, with his warm, dark tone on the pocket trumpet and tenor sax. Nilssen-Love and Lopez act here as an inventive rhythm section that hold back its endless energy and supports cleverly McPhee’s beautiful melodies. Rempis adds lush and rich harmonies while Reid deepens the intimate atmosphere of this set and drives the music forward with subtle contributions. The two parts of the free-improvised piece, titled as “Qaanaaq”, after one of the northernmost towns on Earth, the main town in northwestern Greenland, known also as Thule. The first part develops patiently its hot, slow-burning spirit and its joyful groove. The second part shifts gently between lyrical, chamber jazz to intense and passionate free jazz improvisation, with poetic solos of McPhee on the tenor sax. Hopefully this will not be a one-of-a-kind gathering and we can expect more volumes from this quintet.

Peter Brötzmann Trio - Philosophy of Sound (Soul Silver, 2019) ***½

This one-off trio of German sax titan Peter Brötzmann was recorded during a short tour in Japan that he undertook with Nilssen-Love and Japanese legendary electric trumpet player Toshinori Kondo. Brötzmann and Kondo collaborated before on many occasions, most noteworthy on the Die Like A Dog quartet (with the rhythm section of William Parker and Hamid Drake) but also on the Brötzmann’s Chicago Tentet. Nilssen-Love joined forces before with Brötzmann and Kondo in the Hairy Bones quartet (with Zu’s bass player Massimo Pupillo).

The Brötzmann Trio was recorded live at the private Senshu University in central Tokyo in April 2017. Nilssen-Love was seated at the center of the stage with Brötzmann on his left and Kondo on his right for this 57-minutes performance. Nilssen-Love is indeed the focal point of this trio, fueling and balancing the stormy attacks of Brötzmann and Kondo with enough energy to light all of the Tokyo metropolis. Brötzmann and Kondo trade solos, leaving each other enough space to fly over Nilssen-Love massive kind of drumming (but also the time to take some necessary breaths while the other is soloing), often enriching each other ideas with more reflexive, lyrical ideas. Brötzmann is in fine shape and often tends to be more brutal and uncompromising with the tenor sax and more melancholic and openly vulnerable on the tarogato, but has a strong, down-to-earth tone on both instruments. Kondo has a more ethereal and atmospheric sound but sometimes his playing is talkative as if he is telling a nuanced story, with effects and pedals that cover the range of a human voice and an electric guitar. Both Brötzmann and Kondo have already developed such a strong and totally organic understanding that Nilssen-Love only needs to keep them on course and set the fuse towards the uncompromising, explosive coda.