John Lilja's Robblerobble

Eyal Hareuveni By

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American double bassist John Lilja, based in Stavanger, Norway, for more than 15 years, has collaborated frequently with the fertile, genre-bending, community of musicians of Stavanger, among them saxophonist Frode Gjerstad' s Circulasione Totale Orchestra, Kitchen Orchestra and trumpeter Gunhild Seim's Time Jungle.

The quintet Robblerobble is Lilja's first project as a leader, a working quintet that keeps expanding its musical options. This quintet features some of the best, still underrated, improvisers of the Stavanger scene.


The group's debut album was recorded live at the Tou Loft club in Stavanger and features a long composition divided into six movements. This group describes its music as "third stream stoner rock," and indeed, Lilja music is eclectic, even eccentric at times, and combines the sophistication of jazz improvisation and prog-rock, the rawness of rock, the timbral sonic exploration of new music and much more. Take Charles Mingus's infectious, rhythmic structures, spice it with Frank Zappa's eccentric humor and quirky arrangements, John Zorn's cut-and-paste compositional tools and Fred Frith's sonic manipulations and and you have come close to the bold sound of Robblerobble.

This combination of heavy yet swinging pulse, stressed by Lilja and drummer Ståle Birkeland, with muscular brass playing by alto saxophonist Petter Frost Fadnes and trombonist Dominique Brackeva is spinned to outer space with the metallic guitar solo of Vidar Schanche on "Part II" and summarizes the quintet's playful and emphatic mode of operation. The music progresses organically, allowing each musician to push this tight collective forward. But this quintet can also produce gentle and poetic music, as on "Part III," with the beautiful, meditative solos of Fadnes, Brackeva and Schanche. Lilja's solo on "Part IV" blends the resonating sounds of the amplified bass, silent segments and its impact on the club space before it gels into a rhythmic module, only in its coda, now for the whole quintet.

Robblerobble 2

The same quintet met on May, 2013 to record the following chapter, this time in the studio. Again it is a long composition, divided into eight movements. The outcome emphasizes the orchestral power of this tight quintet and the dramatic, storytelling quality of each movement and the expansion of the vocabulary of the quintet. The music still opts for the organic, patient pace of interplay and for the developing the themes.

Each new movement adds new sonic layers, thickens the evocative narrative of the former one and leaves room for extended, continuous improvisations, as in a modest version of the electric bands of trumpeter Miles Davis or as on the more ambitious works of Weather Report. "A-70" follows the tension built on the former, dramatic "Llandrillo," and dissolves the tense cinematic plot with a hypnotic, pacifying pulse that continues on the following "Ilkley Moor." "Kecksburg, PA" twists the course of the music to a muscular, rhythmic, thick fusion with distant, atmospheric guitar solo of Schanche, and it changes again on "Ubatuba," with an impressive solo by Brackeva. "Wladyslaw S," the final movement, wraps this composition with a brief repetition of the former themes.

Tracks and Personnel


Tracks: Part I; Part II; Part III; Part IV; Part V; Part VI.

Personnel: John Lilja: double bass; Petter Frost Fadnes: alto saksophone; Dominique Brackeva: trombone; Vidar K. Schanche: electric guitar; Ståle Birkeland: drums.

Robblerobble 2

Tracks: Llandrillo; A-70; Ilkley Moor; Kecksburg, PA; Port Shepstone; Ubatuba; Carbondale; Wladyslaw S.

Personnel: John Lilja: double bass; Petter Frost Fadnes: alto saksophone; Dominique Brackeva: trombone; Vidar K. Schanche: electric guitar; Ståle Birkeland: drums.

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