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.