Before getting onto the music on If You Listen Carefully The Music Is Yours, the debut album by the appropriately named Gard Nilssen's Supersonic Orchestra, it is well worth taking a look at the instrumentation of this sixteen-member ensemble. Firstly, every member is credited with playing percussion, in addition to three of the sixteen being drummers, including Gard Nilssen himself. And with three double bassists, this orchestra has a rhythm section which packs quite a punch. The remaining ten members all play reed or brass instrumentsseven saxophonists (three of whom double on clarinet), two trumpeters and a trombonist. Conspicuously absent, compared to other similarly-sized ensembles, are piano, keyboards or guitar.
Recorded live, in July 2019, at the Molde International Jazz Festival (at which Nilssen was Artist in Residence), the sixty-six-minute album captured the orchestra in its natural environment, before an enthusiastic audience. The six tracks were all jointly composed by Nilssen and saxophonist André Roligheten, three of them"Botteknott," "Elastic Circle" and "Jack"having previously been recorded by Nilssen's Acoustic Unity trio, comprising Nilssen and Roligheten along with Petter Eldh, one of the three bassists here. The compositions are varied and strike a near-perfect balance between structured passages and free-blowing improvised horn sections, always safe in the knowledge that the rhythm section is taking care of business. Having three drummers and basses means that no one of them is tied to the role of timekeeper, so they can all contribute creatively to the music; the end result has a well-defined pulse but one that is not rigidly metronomic.
From the start of the opening track, "Premium Processing Fee," after an opening fanfare, we are straight into a driving unison riff which is guaranteed to set feet tapping and behinds wiggling; the riff subtly metamorphoses into a procession of equally rhythmic horn solos, driven along by the rhythm section. A tempo shift down a gear or two, as the horns trade short trademark phrases like a dawn chorus, signals a near-seamless transition into "Botteknott/Elastic Circle" which exhibits the same strengths as the opener, most notably the horn solos. By way of contrast, the lion's share of "Teppen Dance" goes to a prolonged bass solo which leads into a section dominated by saxophones.
And so it continues, with there being enough variety within and between tracks to keep the festival audience transfixed and enthusiastic, sentiments which will surely be shared by listeners to this recording. As Nilssen has commented, "You can get so many different sounds and textures and constellations inside a big band, it's practically infinite. And if the musicians are as fantastic as those in Supersonic, your arrangements can be dynamic rather than rigid -the music can be wilder and more spontaneous than is standard in big bands."
Down the years there have countless big bands (or large ensembles) which have been described as revolutionary or innovative, so many, in fact, that it can be easy to shrug and think, "Oh, another one..." Although this album is Gard Nilssen's Supersonic Orchestra's first, the music here makes it clear that this ensemble has broken the mould and dramatically changed the rules. They must be heard.
Premium Processing Fee; Botteknott/Elastic Circle; Teppen Dance; The City of Roses; Jack; Bytta Bort Kua Fikk Fela Igjen.