With a group as sonically dense as Circulasione Totale Orchestra (CTO), a single disc can be daunting enough. With Bandwidth, the 25 year-old free-blowing group delivers nearly three hours of relentless collective interplay; three continuous pieces divided into four segments each across three CDs. It's not for the faint-at-heart; even free improv fans may find it a challenge to sit through the entire set, recorded live in Molde, Moers, and Zürich, in one sitting. But there are few groups today who can mine the outer reaches of extended improvisation as CTO can, making this an essential and, in many ways, definitive set.
Starting as a vehicle for saxophonist Frode Gjerstad's experimentation with improvisation within the roadmap of composed sketches, CTO's Norwegian line-up quickly grew to include international collaborators that the intrepid Gjerstad has met over the years. Surely Scandinavia's answer to Chicago's Ken Vandermark
in his breadth and prolificacy, the two reedmen have, indeed, intersected, and both regularly enlist drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, another Norwegian heard here alongside South African expat drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo
on all three. All told, CTO runs a full 12 members, but with a touch of the revolving door policy that's been a fundamental philosophy to CTO since its inception.
CTO's music may be jagged andon the surface, at leastunrelenting in its intensity, but a variety of trace elements run through it, providing more than just voluminous weight. Bradford waxes blues-like on "Yellow, Bass & Silver Cornet II, Part 4," for example, amidst burbling electronics and fellow American Kevin Norton
's vibraphonean instrument which, with its more delicate, ethereal timbre, might seem out of place here, but which provides yet another differentiating context-setter when it emerges in the mix. Elsewhere, at the start of "Part 3," Norton's pulse provides a starting point for the drummers to create, if only briefly, a definable rhythm. It's also a lull point for the group, where there may still be plenty going on, but with lowered dynamics and actual space to be found, as Bradford once again takes the lead with Gjerstad and fellow reedman Sabir Mateen wailing far in the background. The piece assumes a more electronic direction, with third drummer Morten Johan Olsen working in tandem with electronics wizard Lasse Marhaug and electric guitarist Anders Hana, to create jagged landscapes, bolstered by British bassist Nick Stephens
With a group of three drummers, two reedmen, one cornetist, a tubaist, two bassists, vibraphone, electric guitar, and assorted electronics, the sonic, polyrhythmic, and melodic possibilities are endless. All this and more is what makes Bandwidth a captivatingalbeit challenginglisten that demands as much of its audience as it does the members of Circulasione Totale Orchestra.
Track Listing: CD1: Yellow, Bass & Silver Cornet II, Parts 1-4. CD2: Yellow, Bass & Silver Cornet III, Parts 1-4. CD3: Dancing in St. Johann IV, Parts 1-4.
Personnel: Frode Gjerstad: saxophone, clarinet; Louis Moholo-Moholo: drums; Morten Johan Olsen: electronics, drums; Anders Hana: electric guitar; Nick Stephens: acoustic bass; Børre Mølstad: tuba; Sabir Mateen: saxophone, clarinet; Kevin Norton: vibraphone; Bobby Bradford: cornet; Lasse Marhaug: electronics; Paal Nilssen-Love: drums (CD1, CD2); Ingebrigt Häker Flaten: acoustic bass (CD1, CD2); Per Zanussi: electric bass (CD3); Hamid Drake: drums (CD3); John Hegre: sound engineer.