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Frode Gjerstad Trio: Ultima

Derek Taylor By

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Witnessing this trio in concert is an unforgettable experience. This disc, released in tandem with their recent North American tour, is as close as it gets to hearing them in the flesh, outside of being fortunate enough to catch one of their gigs in person. The trio’s first recording Remember to Forget on Gjerstad’s own Circulasione Totale label captured a similar level of cathartic energy and works as an ideal companion piece to the one at hand. Set consuming improvisatory blow-outs are this group’s bread and butter and this disc attempts to cage one such beast recorded at the eponymous festival in Oslo. Compositional and arranging credit for “Ultima” is attributed to Gjerstad on the disc’s sleeve, but the piece sounds largely improvised, making only sparing use of preconceived material. The improvisational nature of the music is one of the chief reasons behind its unmitigated success.

Gjerstad may be the prominent name on the sleeve, but from the opening empyrean currents of “Ultima” it’s the rhythmic juggernaut of Parker and Drake that more often than not steers the direction of the group. Gjerstad feeds off the pair’s seemingly limitless reserve of creative stamina adding his own ironclad chops to the effort in a dense thicket of writhing alto lines. The piece swallows up the better part of an hour and players continue along a course of episodic interludes exploring the rhythmic and harmonic permutations of their instrumentation. Ten minutes in Gjerstad lifts his reed from his lips and it becomes Parker’s show in a signature sawing arco workout that leaves the smell of smoldering strings lingering in the air. Twenty minutes later it’s Drake’s turn and he plows a perfusion of deep polyrhythmic furrows on his drum kit that has all of his limbs working in vigorous confluence. Next its Parker again, this time on bow, who builds a delicate reticulation from somber harmonic fabric. Still further into the forest it’s Gjerstad’s upper register squeals which spray a prismatic array of tonal colors across Drake’s percolating hand percussion and Parker’s ominous bass vamp. Even at the piece’s termination point, which fades with Parker in mid-stride, the players still sound as if they could continue for another hour; proof, as if any was necessary, of their consummate musical inexhaustibility.

Any uninterrupted work of music of this duration is bound to have moments where the momentum wavers. There are sections where the sheer magnitude of what these players are attempting becomes daunting, but there’s certainly never a dull moment when it comes to their interplay. When and where this trio will decide to reconvene is uncertain. The logistics of arranging all three players’ schedules alone precludes a prompt reunion. In the meantime there is this disc to remind us of what’s to look forward to when they do.


Personnel: Frode Gjerstad- alto saxophone; William Parker- bass; Hamid Drake- drums.

Recorded: October 7, 1997, Oslo, Norway.

Title: Ultima | Year Released: 2000 | Record Label: Cadence Jazz Records

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