Clocking in at just a minute over two-hours of music, the three CDs (or LPs, if you'd like) that make up Live in Europe provide an audacious excursion into creative music. The drummer, known for his work in multiple groups such as the quartets Cortex and Starlite Motel, Bushman's Revenge, Zanussi Five, and the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, previously released Firehouse (Clean Feed, 2015) with his Gard Nilssen's Acoustic Unity trio. Where the previous title was a studio effort with saxophonist André Roligheten (Friends & Neighbors) and bassist Petter Eldh (Django Bates Belovèd), these three discs are live and feature (on two discs) an expanded lineup.
The first disc was recorded at the 2016 North Sea Jazz Festival with Roligheten and Eldh. The trio mine a couple of compositions from Firehouse, taking them in different directions. All the music here is open to improvisatory flights, yet each piece is also tightly choreographed. The same can be said for the expanded lineups of discs 2 and 3. The original trio is augmented at the Ljubljana Jazz Festival by Fredrik Ljungqvist of Atomic and at the Oslo Jazz Festival the trio becomes a quintet with Kristoffer Berre Alberts (Cortex) and Jørgen Mathisen.
Each of the three performances include a version of "Hymne-Roundtrip." All open with Nilssen's roiling drums that summon the spirit of Tony Williams' athletic artistry. Alone at North Sea Jazz Festival, Roligheten carries the weight of the piece exhibiting an arsenal technique and even quoting from Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" before yielding to Eldh's introspective bass solo. Add Ljungkvist's saxophone and the sound becomes Ornette Coleman's Love Call (Blue Note, 1971), except both saxophonists play the Dewey Redman role and Eldh's solo is much more two-fisted. By the time we get to the three-horn lineup of Roligheten, Ljungkvist and Mathisen at the Oslo Jazz Festival the music has become a muscular gun show. This piece acts as a point of reference between the three performances, none of which is more accomplished than the others. Credit for that is given to the force majeure that is Gard Nilssen.
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