Tag Archives: Paal Nilssen-Love

Ken Vandermark’s Indefatigable Drive and Avant-Garde Vision

Ken Vandermark

Photo by Andy Moor.

For more than two decades, the Chicago reedist, bandleader, and composer Ken Vandermark has served as something of a DIY icon, a fiercely independent musician pursuing improvisation with the same rigor and ferocity with which he conducts his own business. Chicago, of course, has a rich tradition of creative musicians taking charge of their affairs. In 1965, a group of iconoclastic, forward-looking musicians, including Muhal Richard Abrams, Anthony Braxton, and Roscoe Mitchell joined the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), taking charge of concert production and programming in order to have full, uncompromised control of their art. Vandermark, a Boston native who moved to Chicago in 1989, adapted many of those concepts for his own work in the early ‘90s, inspired as much by the punk ethos as the AACM’s model. The self-sufficient system he forged has not only fueled his own successes, but was crucial in reinvigorating avant-garde music in Chicago and abroad.

While free jazz and free improvisation have remained his bedrock concerns, his skill as a composer—both for small ensembles and large groups—has steadily grown in sophistication and effectiveness. Over the years, he’s gotten adept at harnessing a wide range of musical interests within his various projects—funk, noise, 20th Century classical music, reggae, African music, and more. For years, Vandermark would track down venues to present his own music, as well as other similarly inclined musicians, establishing residencies to develop new groups in front of youthful audiences.

He later launched an influential weekly jazz and improvised music series with the writer John Corbett at the legendary Chicago rock club Empty Bottle, which ambitiously presented the leading figures of the discipline from all around the world. “During that period, what I learned from seeing the shows and meeting the musicians was priceless, and in many cases led to future collaborations,” says Vandermark. Indeed, some of his earliest encounters with the likes of steady musical partners like Joe McPhee, Mats Gustafsson, and Peter Brötzmann were initiated through performances there. “Musicians from other cities and countries would reciprocate and help with gigs where they were based. I saw that organizing concerts was essential to building the music, for everyone, including me.”

Continue reading

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

Paal_Nilssen-Love_by_Peter_Gannushkin-600-1

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.

Continue reading