Posts Tagged ‘Paal Nilssen-Love’

End of year jazz

Sunday, December 23rd, 2007

So I was on a much-needed vacation last week, but still managed to squeeze in a couple last concerts in DC: Frode Gjerstad Trio and Circus of Saints, two groups that were sort-of jazz but not really, although in completely (and I do mean completely) different ways.

The former show was a tough decision, because that same night, a very appealing group was playing at An Die Musik in Baltimore, including Marc Ducret on guitar and Tom Rainey on drums. Luckily I made the right call, as that show turned out to be cancelled due to weather. Gjerstad’s trio consisted of the titular member on saxophones and clarinet, Øyvind Storesund on bass, and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums. I’ve seen the latter three times now this year, with three different bands, and I think I have something like eight CDs from this year alone on which he plays. Does the man ever rest? Who knows, but what I do know is that he’s a damned entertaining drummer, and the main reason I decided to go to this show, dragging my girlfriend along with me.

This trio played a little less than an hour of pure free improv, with few gestures towards traditional melody, harmony, or rhythm. Definitely not free jazz, just freeform improvisation. Gjerstad had a tendency to explore the upper registers of his instruments, particularly clarinet, something that I don’t particularly enjoy, but otherwise this was still a pretty fun show. Nilssen-Love is always a blast to watch, in any case. Without any real musical reference points, I’m a bit at a loss to describe this stuff except that it was very challenging.

Three days later, seeing Circus of Saints was a bit of a jarring transition. This is some kind of collective of local musicians playing what could be categorized as accessible, melodic jazz-rock, with plenty of room for soloing but also lots of catchy, composed melodies. The show was at one of my favorite venues, Jammin’ Java (though sadly they were out of their amazing spicy pork chili when we got there), and I had a good time. Although it wasn’t the kind of music I would ever listen to on record, they were fun to watch live, particularly a guy on low brass (trombones and tuba) who was a bit show-offy but had the chops to match — at one point my girlfriend thought he was reading off of the saxophonist’s music and transposing the lines on the fly in is head!

So the vacation was the reason for the lack of recent posting, but I’ll have some good stuff coming up — maybe some notes on new acquisitions, thoughts on an MP3 player I bought a friend for Christmas, recounting an eMusic customer service experience, and an end-of-year concert recap. Til then… happy holidays!

What’s spinning, April 25 edition

Wednesday, April 25th, 2007

The past two months have seen an unprecedented amount of new music cross my path. Here’s what I’ve been listening to lately…

  • Aethenor - Deep In Ocean Sunk the Lamp of Light — Dark ambient stuff by members of Sunn O))) and Guapo (now there’s an inspired combination!). Not surprisingly, this is very creepy stuff, utterly devoid of the structures of the two aforementioned bands.
  • Alamaailman Vasarat - Maahan — Their fourth album harkens back to their earlier material, namely the stuff before the collaboration with Tuomari Nurmio. For most fans, this is a good thing.
  • Michaël Attias - Credo — Very tuneful avant-jazz on Clean Feed. I am starting to really get in to this label, thanks to the prolific amount of material they have on eMusic.
  • Cato Salsa Experience and The Thing with Joe McPhee - Two Bands and a Legend — A free jazz group collaborates with a garage-rock band, and the result is nothing short of awesome. Seriously.
  • Cowboy Junkies - At the End of Paths Taken — Their umpteenth album is, well, kind of boring, despite a new emphasis on electric instruments and some aggressive instrumental passages.
  • Kevin Drumm - Sheer Hellish Miasma — I’m not a huge noise-rock fan, but this stuff is just brutal. Maybe the most balls-to-the-wall intense electronic music I’ve ever heard, this sure is one aptly titled album.
  • Earthless - Rhythms From a Cosmic Sky — Pretty great heavy space/psych-rock, the kind of thing that readers of the Aural Innovations site will go bananas for.
  • The Electrics - Live at Glenn Miller Café — A nice cross between structured avant-jazz and purely sound-based free improv.
  • Lane/Vandermark/Broo/Nilssen-Love - 4 Corners — I am getting seriously addicted to both Vandermark and Nilssen-Love these days, and this is one of the more immediately accessible collaborations of theirs that I’ve heard lately.
  • Loreena McKennitt - Nights at the Alhambra — Wonderful DVD/2CD set for fans of this Celtic/world musician. The CDs are probably redundant for those who own Live in Paris and Toronto, but the DVD is essential.
  • Nadja - Touched — Sludgy doom-metal that, in my opinion, puts Sunn O))) to shame. Maybe it’s just that this stuff is much more accessible and, dare I say it, almost tuneful.
  • (((Powerhouse Sound))) - Oslo/Chicago: Breaks — More Ken Vandermark; this band seems to be trying to go for the Spaceways Inc. avant-jazz/funk crown, but with more noise and more electronics. I dig it.
  • Runaway Totem - Esameron — Everyone’s favorite second-tier zeuhl band releases their new, well, second-tier zeuhl album. To be honest I find this stuff pretty damn annoying, although fans of their other material (or Amygdala’s album) might like it.
  • David Torn - Prezens — Tim Berne fans relax, this is definitely not the new Hard Cell album despite the lineup. More than anything else, this is like Cloud About Mercury, re-envisioned and updated for the 21st century.

The Thing @ Sangha

Friday, April 20th, 2007

Last night I made my first trip up to Sangha (don’t bother with their website, it’s pretty dysfunctional) in Takoma Park, Maryland, to see The Thing. It’s kind of amazing that somehow I’ve never been to Sangha before, as they regularly host Transparent Productions and other off-the-beaten-path shows there. The Thing offered up a good first show! Consisting of drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, and saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, this is an avant/free-jazz trio with a penchant for covering pop/rock songs — in the set they played, they “covered” pieces by Lightning Bolt and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs; their recorded output includes covers of PJ Harvey and The Strokes songs.

In this particular show, the covers were fairly opaque to me — it seemed like they were pretty much just improvising the whole time, playing loose and free until all of a sudden they were playing some ridiculous unison lines or coming to a full stop altogether, seemingly without any visual or auditory cues that I could discern. It was pretty amazing. I saw Nilssen-Love and Håker Flaten with Atomic a few months ago, and they were equally jaw-dropping this time around; Nilssen-Love was on fire the whole time, hands all over the kit (he did play some more straightforward lines once or twice, and that was fun to see), while Håker Flaten’s thinking on his feet was really fun to watch, and he was absolutely fierce, punishing his instrument as much as he played it. I’ve been scared off by Gustafsson on record a couple times, but he was reasonably accessible here, and is one of the most physical players I’ve ever seen — at times dancing with his instrument, at other times fighting it, at all times moving his entire body with the flow of his music.

But it was collectively that these three guys were most impressive; I mentioned in my comments on Atomic’s show that it was fun watching their visual cues, but as I already said, I couldn’t discern any cues whatsoever with these guys. This kind of telepathy is neat when it’s with a group playing carefully composed pieces (say, Ahleuchatistas), but it’s even more impressive when it comes in the context of wild collective improvisation. The ease with which this trio went from dissonant improv with free-flowing rhythms to garage-rock anthems with pounding 4/4 drums, and then back again, was pretty great.

While I still prefer the more structured work of avant-jazz groups like Atomic, The Vandermark 5, or various Tim Berne groups, these last two shows I’ve seen (this one and Brötzmann/Pliakas/Wertmüller last week) have definitely been helping to build my ever-growing interest in the freer stuff.

Atomic @ Twins Jazz - what a great surprise!

Friday, February 9th, 2007

Atomic’s smart blend of avant jazz and edgy groove is the bomb,” said the sweet preview (PDF) in the Washington Post Express of Transparent Productions‘ first show of 2007. And while the Express is an odd publication with a Paris Hilton fetish and unpredictable musical tastes (though they did also write a great preview of the Sleepytime Gorilla Museum show a couple years ago), well, they were spot-on here. Atomic are a Swedish/Norweigian quintet that play an energetic kind of avant-jazz that is somewhat free but is still grounded just enough in traditional jazz to be quite accessible. They played last night at Twins Jazz and, in short, put on one of the best shows I’ve seen in the past year (which is saying something).

The energy level was through the roof, and the fact that the small club was lively and pretty much completely full (about 80 people) had a lot to do with that. At the end of the show, saxophonist Fredrik Ljungkvist said the DC audience was the best audience of the tour so far, and I believe it — folks were really getting into it. In any case, the band certainly gave us a lot to be excited about: Ljungkvist in particular was absolutely on fire everytime he picked up his sax, bringing the roof down with several exhilirating solos. (He also played clarinet, but his work on that instrument was generally more subdued.) Also, I’ve heard drummer Paal Nilssen-Love on several recordings, but seeing him live was eye-opening: the guy was a total beast, filling up all kinds of space and consistently driving the band to higher and higher levels. Nilssen-Love may as well have been the namesake of this band: he was the nuclear power plant energizing the entire group.

The most astounding piece was something called “ABC 101 B,” an appropriate title for a stuttering monster of a composition that featured blindingly fast unison playing in confusingly dynamic time signatures. Those off-kilter unison lines are contrasted madly with slower, more lyrical sections, and then integrated smoothly into free improvisation — the horns interjecting quick lines into the rest of the band’s improvising, creating a fascinating kind of off-balance dialogue. In the fantasy genre of “RIO-jazz,” this song would be a prime representative.

Finally, one of the neat things about seeing this band was their visual element. A lot of their improvising was coordinated through visual cues, some obvious and some more subtle, which were fun to track. But more than that was just the obvious fact that they were really enjoying themselves, grinning at each other when things were clicking particularly well, even openly gaping at each others’ talents during especially strident solos. Nilssen-Love was the most expressive, often watching his bandmates carefully as they soloed; judging by his expressions, he was not just waiting for cues, but also at times figuring out exactly what the hell they were doing — looks of surprise, admiration, even mild confusion all rotated on his face.

In some ways Atomic reminded me of The Vandermark 5 in that both these bands find a great balance between traditional and free jazz. I’m getting to see the latter next Friday, and if they put on a show anywhere near as good as last night’s, I’ll be very happy indeed.