By Euan Andrews
by Alain Drouot
Paal Nilssen-Love is the most kinetic of drummers. His freewheeling energy seems to be fuelled by his motion, rather than vice-versa. Add to that his power, spontaneity and apparently innate musicality. Few can match him, though he can be complemented, as he was by the comparatively easeful intensity of Michael Zerang for the latter-day outings of the Peter Brotzmann Chicago Tentet.
Nilssen-Love’s self-descriptive Large Unit is an undectet (11-piece) vehicle for his own original compositions, and he’s obviously selected its members with equal care. It’s less raw-sounding than Brotzmann’s group and, despite the titular emphasis on unity, it’s often broken down into smaller sub-groups, the better to exploit its full dynamic potential.
Erta Ale, named after a geographical region that’s equally prone to igneous ejaculation, comes quickly after the Unit’s too-brief First Blow, and it’s more of the same, but in a bigger package. You can take it two ways; either as a triple CD set, or, if you pay double, as four 12″ slabs of vinyl plus a CD and a flexidisc. Either way, it’s a meaty proposition.
There are 17 tracks in total on Erta Ale (only 16 on CD). Half were recorded live in Oslo, Bergen and Trondheim during a Jan/Feb 2014 tour of Norway, the other half “on location” in a Trondheim studio. The vinyl edition bonus CD – same as the third disc in the CD set – presents four alternative performances recorded six months later at Moers Jazzfestival. The only track missing from the CD set (unless there’s something worthwhile on the flexi) is a live version of “Slow Love” featuring Lasse Marhaug, which would’ve fit onto the first disc of the CD edition. Its omission is disappointing, since Marhaug is a notable presence and a wildcard operator, adding grit to the grain with turntable and electronics.
On the main body of work, the studio cuts are interspersed with live performances, all of equally clean audio fidelity. The Live at Moers disc – comprising four pieces, each around fifteen minutes long – is a tad more raw, but actually presents a pretty neat encapsulation of the Unit’s method of operation.
“Round About Nothing IV” begins with a rude fanfare of brass and horns, all punching through a loose scree of turntablism and electric strings. After the percussionists enter and tangle with bassists, individual voices in the frontline take turns to soliloquise as the group texture breaks down. The saxophonists are loquacious, the brass players more guttural, drawing the collective momentum down prior to a passage of abrasive, free-form electric guitar.
After such a restlessly discursive start, “Fortar Hardar II” powers in emphatically on a bass/drum ostinato that’s soon bolstered by riffing unison horns. When baritone sax starts to trawl the depths of the groove and Marhaug turns irruptive, the Unit’s concerted momentum is sustained until six minutes in, when there’s a sudden spotlight on the Unit’s sole cornetist, Thomas Johansson. Instead of the expected return to full-bore, the other players make only stabbing, percussive sorties, fizzling out into fitful flurries of muted trombone. The bass/drum ostinato is re-insinuated only at the death, lifting the group into a final unison recap of the tune’s thematic riff.
“Austin Birds” begins blue ‘n’ bruised, with Ornettish alto sax prominently solo amid less orthodox, even slightly unhinged group interplay. Later, following a middle passage of vocalised brass and scraped-string textures, there’s some scrabbly harmolodic guitar studded by brass-strafed percussion. It all hangs together, ending with a coda for solo trumpet that successfully encapsulates the texture of the whole.
“Culius” begins with pile-driving unison riffs and raw dis/connects of distortion, but soon bursts into a powerfully funk-inflected, brass-bolstered vamp that breaks first into a loping, almost musclebound groove, then into massed noise ending in a welter of feedback-scored dual-kit percussion. It’s one of the few pieces here that’s reminiscent of Nilssen-Love’s work with The Thing.
The drummer’s compositions reflect his playing style, in which sustained flurries of frenetic activity are punctuated by oases of acute sonic sensitivity, and punchy rhythmics are offset by textural, a-rhythmic sound-painting. Remarkably, the Large Unit’s considerable resources are bought into play on those pieces with a similarly responsive acuity, and all the economy of a much smaller entity.
PAAL NILSSEN-LOVE LARGE UNIT – ERTA ALE ★★★★
By Spencer Grady
Paal Nilssen-Love (d, perc), Thomas Johansson (c, flhn), Mats Äleklint (tb), Kasper Værnes (ss, as), Klaus Ellerhusen Holm (as, bs), Børre Mølstad (tba), Ketil Gutvik (g), Lasse Marhaug (turntable, electronics), Jon Rune Strøm (b, el b), Christian Meaas Svendsen (b, el b) and Andreas Wildhagen (d, perc). Rec. 30 January-4 February and 7 June 2014
Sluice your magma chambers – because Paal Nilssen-Love’s 11-piece band hasn’t just named their formidable box set after an eternally-active Ethiopian volcano, they’ve harnessed the lava bombs and sent them vaulting over the ozone. The drummer’s formative experiences with Peter Brötzmann’s Chicago Tentet and Frode Gjerstad’s Circulasione Totale Orchestra undeniably impact on the full-blast ratio; mobocracies of molten chaos blossom into welters of hellish cat-calls as jive rifts sling salvos of supremely low-slung swing.
Ataxias of semi-composed sax scramble are jettisoned by Lasse Marhaug’s coruscating coordinates, the electronics saboteur dishing clean slates, allowing the collective to devolve into constituent parts, a chain of improvisatory workshops preventing Erta Ale from becoming just another extended white knuckle ride. On the title-track the group broker a suite of diverging tectonics in the aisles of a pachinko parlour before detonating another plum in the guise of a wheezy carp. Nilssen-Love says this is just the beginning. Expect more thunder, more pyros and bucketfuls of BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!
Legendary Scandinavian out-jazz drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, probably best known for his work in The Thing and many collaborations with Peter Brötzmann (including the Chicago Tentet), has formed a new band: the 11-piece Large Unit, which also includes Thomas Johansson on cornet and flugelhorn; Mats Äleklint on trombone; Kasper Værnes on soprano and alto saxophone; Klaus Ellerhusen Holm on alto and baritone saxophone; Børre Mølstadon tuba; Ketil Gutvik on electric guitar; Lasse Marhaug on turntable and electronics; Jon Rune Strøm and Christian Meaas Svendsen on double and electric bass; and Andreas Wildhagen on drums & percussion. They’ve just released a three-CD box (also available as a four-LP set), Erta Ale, on Nilssen-Love’s own PNL label.
It’s a mixture of studio and live material, with the third disc containing a full set from the 2014 Moers Festival. The two main discs feature paintings by Nilssen-Love’s father Terry as cover art, and the set comes with two booklets: one with liner notes by Audun Vinger, and one with photos by Peter Gannushkin (including the shot above). It may seem presumptuous for a band to put out a box so early in its lifespan, but the Chicago Octet/Tentet did the same thing, with their eponymous 1998 three-disc set on Okka Disk. And like that set, Erta Ale is both subtler and less overwhelming than one might expect. As might be expected, with a double rhythm section, electric guitar, and legendary noise master Marhaug in the lineup, this is not your typical big band, though it has its swinging moments, nor is it a “traditional” large-scale free jazz group in the bombastic, blaring vein of Michael Mantler‘s Jazz Composers Orchestra orWilliam Parker‘s Little Huey Orchestra. Indeed, while it’s a frequently raucous and quite noisy unit, with a hard-charging energy reminiscent of Charles Mingus crossed with theMelvins, there are numerous passages where individual instrumentalists take lengthy and at times quite meditative and exploratory solo turns. And given the fact that most of the players are not nearly as well-known internationally as Nilssen-Love, he’s to be commended for providing them with such a superb platform.
Paal Nilssen-Love Large Unit capture a strong sense of total freedom on new box set
The release of Large Unit’s Erta Ale (PNL Records ***1/2) should have wide appeal, and justifiably so given the ideas here, to free jazz and improv followers of the Brötzmann school particularly, this 3-CD/4-LP box set from The Thing drummer Paal Nilssen-Love’s 11-piece.
A relatively new band, set up less than 18 months ago with a live album already under their belts, this latest release comes in an attractively designed box, with a UK release date of 8 December, and gathers combined Large Unit live and studio material, following on from an earlier Moers release and features some concert material again from the German festival but recorded this summer.
The line-up — Thomas Johansson (cornet, flugelhorn), Mats Äleklint (trombone), Kasper Værnes (soprano saxophone, alto saxophone), Klaus Ellerhusen Holm (alto saxophone, baritone saxophone), Borre Mølstad (tuba), Ketil Gutvik (electric guitar), Lasse Marhaug (turntable, electronics), Jon Rune Strøm (electric bass, acoustic bass), Christian Meaas Svendsen (electric bass, acoustic bass), Andreas Wildhagen (drums, percussion), and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums, percussion) — is a fearsome unit at times, their collective squalling a wall of sound sometimes but shrinking to more intimate abstractions in sharp contrast.
The second ‘Studio/Live’ CD is the most brutal of all, appealing not quite so much to me, but the first and third discs are excellent and still pretty full-on. There are several versions of ‘Round About Nothing’ (how’s that for a statement in the title in itself?) at least one on each of the three discs and ‘Birdbox’ with different featured soloists is a firm favourite of the Large Unit’s too, as is the panoramic ‘Culius,’ the Moers version the pick. Nilssen-Love is a significant figure on the global jazz scene his anarchic multi-directional and punk stylings utterly unique and compelling and his compositional direction reaching a crunch point here. SG
Paal Nilssen-Love Large Unit: Erta Ale review – a percussion juggernaut
by John Fordham
Like most free-jazz specialists, the prodigious Norwegian drums virtuoso Paal Nilssen-Love is often heard with small bands, but he has powered bigger ensembles with the eclectic American Ken Vandermark and the German sax legend Peter Brötzmann, and last year formed the 11-piece Large Unit featured on the mix of studio and live takes on this box set.
As with Brötzmann’s Tentet, there’s a shrewdly struck balance between collective hollering and delicate miniatures for soloists and subgroups, and clear throwbacks to John Coltrane’s larger-group explorations in the 1960s. But Nilssen-Love is a sophisticated thinker as well as a terrifying percussion juggernaut, and this music is distinctively his.
Saxophonist Klaus Holm, trombonist Mats Äleklint and fellow drummer Andreas Wildhagen quietly stir multiphonic musings and a slew of quiet percussion variations into the three intimate Birdbox tracks; Fendika is a catchy tuba hook that swells into a Coltranesque anthem; three takes of Round About Nothing span wary group negotiations and blustering staccato gallops; and Erta Ale is a dark, low-brass gabble that becomes an improv reverie stitched together by long alto-sax tones and nimble pizzicato bass.
The band plays London’s Cafe Oto on 1 and 2 May, and on this evidence it will be a mind-bending experience.
April 23, 2015