Tag Archives: Jazz

The Natural: Jazz Drummer Paal Nilssen-Love’s Many Incarnations

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Photos by Peter Gannushkin

There’s never been a point for Paal Nilssen-Love where jazz drumming wasn’t an integral part of his life. His father, a British drummer who married a Norwegian woman, moved to the small town of Stavanger, where they opened a jazz club. This allowed the young Paal (pronounced Paul) to meet a host of legendary players, one of whom was Art Blakey. “He came to my parents’ house after a gig in Stavanger when I was eight years old or so,” Nilssen-Love recalls. So it should be no surprise that when it came time to choose an instrument in school, he opted for drums and has never looked back.

His first recording was a 1992 session with the Circulasione Totale Orchestra, led by saxophonist Frode Gjerstad. Since then, he’s appeared on literally hundreds of albums with a vast range of partners. He’s probably best known for his work with saxophonist Mats Gustafsson and bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten in the free jazz/garage rock trio The Thing, and with German sax titan Peter Brötzmann in a variety of contexts, ranging from duos to the Chicago Tentet. In recent years, he’s been releasing material on his own PNL imprint.

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Metal Trio Orthodox on Breaking Genres and Why Black Sabbath is Jazz

Orthodox. Photo by Sergio Martin.

Orthodox. Photo by Sergio Martin.

A decade ago, the Spanish trio debuted with Gran Poder, a four-song slab of madhouse doom that seemed specifically designed to test the parameters of the genre. They would start and stop, go near-silent or maddeningly loud, twisting and turning until they arrived at the borders of their self-described form. It was a wonderfully weird mess.

Orthodox quickly exited that realm, though, leaving Southern Lord Records and, during the next dozen years, plowing loudly into jazz and rock and even bits of electronic drone. But Supreme, the band’s latest album, is the most unapologetically strange and ecstatic record they’ve ever made, bar none. Recorded with saxophonist Achilleas Polychronidis, the one-track, thirty-six-minute LP links the shivering fury of free jazz with the shuddering quakes of doom. Imagine the Melvins, sans vocals, wrestling with Ken Vandermark, or Sleep waking up to find that Mats Gustafsson had replaced Matt Pike. Supreme is aggressive, outlandish, and engrossing, a live-to-tape trip that makes more sense through speakers than on paper.

We spoke with bassist Marco Serrato about the unlikely link between doom and jazz that makes Supreme so good.

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Album of the Day: Chicago/London Underground, “A Night Walking Through Mirrors”

Cornetist Rob Mazurek and drummer Chad Taylor have been the sole constants in the revolving constellation of groups that have borne the name Chicago Underground going back nearly two decades, when the Chicago Underground Quartet dropped Playground for Delmark in 1998. Back then, the combo cleaved toward an inside-out strain of post-bop, but in the years since—in duo, trio, and quartet configurations–its music has embraced a fierce sense of freedom, even within hypnotic, circular forms. These days, Mazurek and Taylor work most often as a duo, where meticulously deployed electronics usually provide a muscular skeleton for the hornman’s powerful yet lyric improvisation.

In April of 2016, the Duo was performing at Café Oto in London—its first visit to the city in a decade—and for part of the stint the pair invited two powerful locals to join them. Bassist John Edwards has been a fixture on the UK improv scene for decades—he’s recently contributed some of his strongest playing to groups led by German saxophonist Peter Brötzmann—while pianist Alexander Hawkins is one of the country’s brightest young talents, already involved in strong partnerships with free improv sax legend Evan Parker and the legendary South African drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo. Their involvement on the four extended pieces featured on A Night Walking Through Mirrors pushed the Chicago Underground out of its recent modus operandi toward a raw sort of spiritual seeking, where Mazurek’s innate melodic gifts—still deeply informed by the tart playfulness of Don Cherry—regularly collide with the thrumming energy and spacious flow of his collaborators.

As usual, Taylor provides an imperturbable pulse, driving the music with unerring instincts that accommodate Edwards’ fiery arco lines and furious plucking—which on a piece like “Something Must Happen” veer toward a viscous, grinding low-end a la William Parker—and Hawkins’ hammering, skittering notes, without losing a sense of movement. He’s one of the subtlest drummers in jazz—a player possessed with faultless time who can operate in the most blustery setting without pushing his partners to the side. Mazurek is at is his best here, uncorking epic solos built from short, indelible phrases scattered across the vast landscapes of these spontaneous creations. On several pieces he adds wordless vocals, tapping into an early ‘70s spiritual jazz vibe, albeit with a much coarser, immediate energy. Only “Boss Redux” draws on some previously composed material—it features some reworked music from the Duo’s 2014 album Locus—but still, the foursome serves up roiling, in-the-moment energy. The album is a burner from start to finish, and a potent reminder that creative minds working together for the first time can generate something magical out of thin air if the chemistry is right.

—Peter Margasak

The Dark Sonic Evolution of Grails

Grails

Grails is a band shrouded in mystery. That’s not because of some great promotional effort, but because the seldom-touring and geographically far-flung outfit changes their style as they please. At various times in Grails’ discography, fans could point to the band as an experimental noise group, a heavy metal band, a free-jazz collective or a classical orchestra.

To hear co-founder Emil Amos tell it, that un-boxable and ever-shifting sound—Grails’ central mystery—is what has sustained his band for the past 18 years. The group’s latest album, Chalice Hymnal, trades some of the band’s darkly claustrophobic tendencies for majestic wide-open spaces. That’s about as fine a point one can put on an LP that dabbles in everything from krautrock to smooth jazz. Amos points to Italian and British “library music” as a prime influence for the album.

Still, the band continues to evolve. Its current modus operandi is propelled less by muscle than by a legitimately moving sense of sonic scale. “The way you transmute anger can become very subtle as you get older,” Amos tells me via telephone. He’s walking the streets near his home in Bushwick, the M train occasionally rattling by above him. “You start to perceive that there are other ways to be angry, and there are other ways to be impossibly dark.”

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Sean Foran’s Latest Jazz Opus Began as a “Blind Date”

Sean Foran

“I needed to create a project that was different,” says Sean Foran. “Prior to this, my projects have always been very piano heavy. I wanted to step away from that to just be part of the band, and not be the guy out front all alone driving the melody.” He’s talking about two albums: his new solo release, Frame of Reference, and Known-Unknown, his 2017 release with Trichotomy. To achieve that goal, Foran had to travel—both geographically, to England, and then sonically, to the edges of jazz.

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