Paal Nilssen-Love Large Unit-First Blow (PNL, 2014)  ****½

By Ed Pettersen

I love this album.  It’s only two long songs (one 12 minutes and the other almost 9) but any time you listen to a record and it makes you smile, feel intrigued and challenges you is a good thing in my book.

Song 1 starts with a couple of blast from the Large Unit then enters immediately into squeals and digital disturbance for a minute or two before the Large Unit enters back in for real.  It’s very playful, almost sounds entirely improvised were it not for the tightness of the changes by the group together, and has a lot of dynamics.  It sure ain’t boring, that’s for certain.

Song 2 has more digital interference and tasteful sax squeals and improv but is no less fun than track 1.  It’s less bombastic than the first song and a lot more out there but very cool on its own.  It’s also less of a combined unit song but that didn’t inhibit my enjoyment of it one bit.  Norwegian artists get tagged with the “electronic free jazz” moniker often but when it’s used this well I don’t think of it as such.  I just hear it as a natural part of the composition and great music.

Mr. Love is a superb band leader and improviser and it’s hard to think of a drummer right now I’d rather listen to in the free jazz world.  He’s powerful, commanding but never overwhelming or ostentatious.  That he could take a complete seat back on the second track and let it happen outside the drums is a testament to his taste and restraint.

I originally wasn’t going to review it because I didn’t want to be tagged “the Norwegian guy” but I’m glad I did.  It’s enriched my musical palate and expanded my mind.  I also didn’t want to give it such a high rating since the last few reviews I’ve done were so high but this album demands it. Highly recommended.