Three With Frode Gjerstad

Frode Gjerstad / William Parker / Hamid Drake

Frode Gjerstad Trio
Circulasione Totale

Circulasione Totale Orchestra
Circulasione Totale

On Reade Street is a fine set of up-to-the-minute jazz recorded at Piano Magic in New York in January 2006, with Gjerstad playing alto sax and clarinet with the fabled Parker/Drake rhythm section. Three improvisations are featured: “The Street”, “The Houses” and “The People”, all distinguished by sparkling vigour and creative nosiness. Gjerstad is a choice elicitor of out-of-the-ordinary elocutions, refusing gadgetry and reed-fuelled bric-a-brac in favour of a strong sense of asymmetrical melody, trawling the improbable waters of curvilinear liberty in search of the most disparate notes, looking for composure while surrounded by havoc. Parker’s input is a combination of equanimity and efficient indeterminacy, the weight of his instrumental prowess pushing his companions towards the correct route; his bowed moans are especially powerful. The mixture of harmonic acuity and bass rumble in “The Houses” and in his frequent duo spots with Gjerstad are the highlights of a brilliant performance. Drake’s drumming can be elusive, vivacious, hard-swinging, even absent, but it always maintains the rhythmic cohesion of the group at the utmost level of technical responsiveness and passionate commitment. It would be ridiculous, though, to try and apply a scale of values to a record that’s basically a collective, necessary reaffirmation of the true ethics of jazz. This is one of those rare instances where a combination of musicians that looks great on paper actually delivers. In spades.

Nothing Is Forever, a studio recording from 2007, constitutes another chapter in the history of Gjerstad’s trio featuring Øyvind Soresund on acoustic bass and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums. The three have been together since 1999, and their previous releases have appeared on Cadence, Splasch, Falcata Galia and FMR. Gjerstad’s playing is informed by a sense of indestructible anarchy that pushes towards the extreme registers virtually ad infinitum, in search of taintless chirps and raucous invectives against an implausible enemy, hand-knitted fragments of seething pneumatology that never cease to surprise and, on more attentive analysis, reveal a stunning technical command. Storesund acknowledges the inspiration of William Parker and, believe it or not, Jamaaladeen Tacuma (one of the most unjustly neglected virtuosos in the history of modern jazz, if you ask me), but in this album he’s largely content with fantasticating a stark, nihilist luminosity, his lines at once concretely dissonant and utterly suspended. Nilssen-Love is his usual self, effective but unruly, at times almost quarrelsome; aside from his continuous restructuration of the trio’s torrential diluvia, he gets a couple of solo spots whose insuppressible, rudderless outflows thrust the whole shebang past the outer limits of rationality.

In Italian the acronym CTO stands, funnily enough, for Centro Traumatologico Ortopedico (“Orthopaedic Trauma Centre”), and indeed parts of the Circulasione Totale Orchestra’s Open Port, recorded live in Stavanger (Norway) at 2008’s MaiJazz festival, unfold with bone-breaking force. Frode Gjerstad modestly describes the thirteen-man aggregate as “some of my musical friends over the years”, yet this is much more than a parade of famous improvisers. I’m not a fan of “sounds-like-X” comparisons, but if it helps, picture a cross between Otomo Yoshihide’s New Jazz projects and Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath (not surprisingly, “Yellow Bass and Silver Cornet” – the 48-minute suite that comprises the entirety of this disc – is dedicated to Johnny Dyani and John Stevens). One distinctive trait of this unit is the extensive use of instrumental doubling: two drum sets (Louis Moholo-Moholo and Paal Nilssen-Love), two reed players (Gjerstad and Sabir Mateen), and two acoustic basses (Nick Stephens, Ingebrigt H. Flaten), the other members being Bobby Bradford, Morten J. Olsen, Anders Hana, Børre Mølstad, Kevin Norton, Lasse Marhaug, and John Hegre. After a preliminary collective flare the piece is set in motion by an expressive solo by Bradford, whose cornet gives a faint illusion of composure before the blasting cooperative is set loose to enjoy the pleasures of improvisational insurrection, with very few moments of relief. The gap between tradition and modernity is emphasized by the presence of Marhaug’s ever-unquiet electronics, his startling discharges of distorted fury mocking any attempts at enforced lyricism like a grinning demon pretending to be your personal friend in a public photo. It remains to be seen which side of that gap we want to be on but, either way, this is a galvanizing listen.


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