Large Unit - Cafe OTO, 1.05.2015

London Jazz News

Drawing by Geoff Winston

There was absolutely no standing still with Large Unit, Paal Nilssen-Love's 11-piece Scandinavian big band. Powered by the corrosive, percussive rush of twin drums alongside two bull fiddles either side of Cafe Oto's stage area, Large Unit's brass front section - twin saxes, trumpet and trombone – was hurled in to the fray, blasting out and bellowing with structured abandon, reined in only by irrepressible, low-level tuba meanderings, gristly guitar and electronic spatters and washes.

Nilssen-Love's compositions, drawn from Large Unit's debut album, Erta Ale threw down a continuous train of challenges to the youthful band who flicked the switches between razor-sharp scored sections and the demands of maintaining improvised continuity with seasoned confidence. Austin Birds, Fendika and the title track were name-checked in set two, and the album, appropriately, is named after Ethiopia's 'Smoking Mountain' volcano which boasts twin active lava lakes.

Thomas Johansson (trombone) and Mats Älekindt (trumpet) revelled in quickfire jousting with windrush air blasts and high-roast sliding and wheeling solos. Two extended first set solos from guitarist, Ketil Gutvik, with a slew of vibrating, motorised feedback and Klaus Holm on alto sax, with fluttered fingerboarding and trilled, circular breathed repetitions gave way to a delicately strung, close conversation between Per Åke Holmander's tuba and Julie Kjaer's alto.

Drawing by Geoff Winston

This was an exhilarating, organic evolution, constantly shifting, yet always consummately articulate. Minimalist pulsed repetitions rubbed shoulders with thudding prog rock riffs and an orchestral jazz slant rooted in the ground-breaking excursions of Mingus, Bley and Tippett's Centipede. The textural variety and imaginative fluency was impressively wide-ranging, with introspective, exploratory episodes introduced to gain fresh vantage points in the fast-moving soundscape, before powering out with a fireball of pummelling energy.

Inviting parallels with Gustafsson's Fire! Orchestra and the Brötzmann Chicago Tentet, Large Unit are firmly positioned at the cutting edges of contemporary band activity, and like those two outfits, proved to be a formidable live experience, worth catching at any opportunity.

Geoff Winston