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Frode Gjerstad Trio: Steam In The Casa

Nicola Negri By

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Frode Gjerstad has been a key figure of Norway's free jazz scene since the 1970s. In 1981 he started a fruitful collaboration with John Stevens, who encouraged him to pursue his interests in free improvisation, eventually connecting him with a diverse range of important international musicians. A few years later he started working with a younger generation of promising Norwegian improvisers, meeting Paal Nilssen-Love when the drummer was only 15; since then they created a strong musical and personal bond, collaborating in countless occasions. One of the most enduring projects has been the trio, where the only variable was the bassist role, until Jon Rune Strøm, another young Norwegian musician, joined the group in 2011. Recorded live in concert at Montreal's Casa Del Popolo in November 2015, Steam In The Casa is the seventh album released by this group.

The record opens with "Pinch And Hide," a properly steaming free jazz assault, with Strøm and Nilssen-Love laying down a throbbing pulse constantly growing in intensity, while Gjerstad unleashes twisted saxophone lines and piercing upper register contortions. The atmosphere then changes, with the rhythm section pulverizing in steady drum hits and arco digressions, while Gjerstad remains in the same abstract mood, transforming the sound of his instrument through unorthodox techniques. The following piece, "Stranger In A Common Place," takes the opposite route, with bass and drums moving from a sparse, abstract activity to a bouncing vehicle for the clarinet excursions, firmly kept on the most strident registers.

"Dodging Borders," the longest track on the album clocking in at almost 13 minutes, further develops these themes, with a high energy, fractured rhythm base that constantly evolves in different permutations—from rock oriented sections to sinuous walking bass lines— supporting Gjerstad's explorations of different thematic materials, mostly based on short ostinatos and simple but effective melodic modulations. There's an infectious enthusiasm in the proceedings, with the musicians constantly interacting with each other's ideas without fear of dismantling effective combinations, always in search of new paths to explore. In contrast with the preceding tracks, "Wobbly Rail" is a piece mostly played on subtle dynamics and tonal explorations, where Nilssen- Love's choice of unusual timbres and Strom's restrained arco work provide a rich backdrop for Gjerstad's breathy clarinet meditations, building a pensive, textural soundscape that brilliantly closes the album.

Track Listing: Pinch And Hide; Stranger In A Common Place; Dodging Borders; Scattered Fiction; Wobbly Rails.

Personnel: Frode Gjerstad: alto saxophone, Bb clarinet; Jon Rune Strøm: double bass; Paal Nilssen-Love: drums, percussion.

Title: Steam In The Casa | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: PNL

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