The Guardian

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