PNL Records was started in 2007 by Norwegian jazz drummer Paal Nilssen-Love
to release his recordings as a solo artist, with his big band Large Unit, and in collaborations with other artists. Fish & Steel
is the self-titled debut from the trio of trombonist Mats Åleklint, tuba player Per-Äke Holmlander, and Nilssen-Love. All three are part of Nilssen-Love's twelve-member Large Unit and its spin-off units, Extra Large, and Small. The two extended tracks were recorded live at the Blow Out
concert series at Kafé Hærverk, Oslo, Norway, in 2018. Nilssen-Love's PNL Records has judiciously released less than a dozen albums in the same number of yearsmost from his own unitsand all his own projects. Fish & Steel
may be one of the more accessible of his albums, but it is a relative comparison considering the company he keeps.
The members of this trio have deep backgrounds in free jazz and have worked with many of the best in the bleeding-edge sub-genre. Nilssen-Love is best known for his projects with Ken Vandermark
, and both Holmlander and Nilssen-Love have recorded with Joe McPhee
, Mats Gustafsson
and Peter Brötzmann
. Åleklint has been a member of Angles 9
since the group's inception and he was a long-time member of Fire! Orchestra
The formation of trombone, tuba, and drums gives the music an unusual low-end sound throughout. It falls on Nilssen-Love to add the sharper contrasts to an otherwise rounded sound. The two lengthy improvisations on Fish & Steel
, each run close to half-an-hour. "Blow Out" features solos, duos, and group improvisations, the latter being the most prominent. The piece is often melodic, sometimes drone-like, but rarely noisy. "Sångbolaget" is the more animated of the two tracks, driven by Nilssen-Love's vigorous stick work and Holmlander's bass-like tuba lines.
The improvisations on Fish & Steel
seem to come so naturally that they sometimes feel composed; it is likely that is the halo effects of their history together and an affinity for the avant-garde. Embedded in the two pieces are many vignettes; occasionally they exude probing urgency or joyful bounciness abbreviating the gulf between free jazz and approachable fun. The depth and range of the players are fascinating as is the music.