Saxophonist Frode Gjerstad has become increasingly prolific over the past few years thanks in part to the number of accolades he's managed to accumulate in both his native Norway and internationally. Principle among these awards was his winning the illustrious title of Norwegian Jazz Musician of the Year in 1998. The distinction brought not only prestige, but also resources, which have allowed Gjerstad to continue realizing his goals including performing and recording with a diverse array of European and American improvisers. The quartet documented on this disc is comprised of one such aggregate and is indicative of the challenging kinds of company Gjerstad prefers to keep. His partners are among the top technicians on their respective instruments and couple their abundant ability with an equal measure of creativity. Bergman remains at the vanguard of improvising keyboard stylists, few brass players have matched Bradford's facility on trumpet, and akLaff's percussive faculties have fueled a wide array of groups fronted by leaders as diverse as Don Byron and Sonny Sharrock. Among the three, Bradford's association with Gjerstad has been the lengthiest. The two first played together in the saxophonist's long-standing group Detail, co-led by the late British drummer, John Stevens.
The history the two men share is highly apparent in their music and this outing marks only one of several recent collaborations (see also Gjerstad's "Throught the Woods" on CIMP). All of the music for the date is collectively composed though the pieces also rely heavily on free improvisation. The title piece starts things out at full tilt with Bergman's turbulent clusters and akLaff's crashing drums charging forward before Gjerstad and Bradford arrive for a clipped theme statement and a series of densely compacted exchanges. Staccato interplay and migratory repetition are the focus on "Branu Vali," a piece which generates a similar level of dissonant intensity through akLaff's rolling stop and stutter pulse. A potent lyricism permeates "Ika Kulabo" and Bradford's opening solo on the piece is both concise ideologically and expansive sonically delivering the perfect balm for Bergman's restless obliquities on the keys. On the abbreviated "Flana Nua" Bergman and akLaff drop out leaving Gjerstad and Bradford sculpt a tone poem built on unison lines. Bergman's craggy chords return on "Ouli Zlenak" the longest piece on the disc, building tension alongside akLaff's constantly combusting rhythms. Gjerstad makes the most of the resulting ruckus to craft a marvelously unfettered solo that tests the register limits of his instrument. Bradford follows suit on the concluding "Abua Dukot" delivering his most inspired solo of the date through a maze of carefully slurred notes.
This is a group comprised of four atypical musicians, led by one whose chief designs involve a continuous reevaluation of musical preconceptions and boundaries. Those listeners who covet the joys of creative improvised music and are unfamiliar with Gjerstad owe it to themselves to become familiar with his work. His is definitely an improvisational voice to be reckoned with.
Recorded: September 14, 1997, Tom Tedesco Studios, New Jersey.
Side Note: Gjerstad's trio featuring bassist William Parker and percussionist Hamid Drake will be touring the United Stats in January 2000. Don't miss the opportunity witness their music first hand. Tour dates and locations are listed below.
Friday, 14th Chicago, IL Saturday, 15th Chicago, IL Sunday, 16th Minneapolis, MN Tuesday, 18th Bloomington, IN Wednesday, 19th Chicago, IL Friday, 21st Ann Arbor, MI Saturday, 22nd Pittsburgh, PA Tuesday, 25th San Diego, CA Wednesday, 26th Portland, OR Thursday, 27th Seattle, WA Friday, 28th Vancouver, British Columbia Saturday, 29th Edmonton, Alberta