July 16, 2001
Sticks & Stones
Taking the traditional jazz piano trio one step forward into the future, this admirable CD also shows off the advanced instant compositional skills of some of the musicians who live on the roof of Northern Europe.
Consisting of two Swedes — pianist Sten Sandell and bassist Johan Berthling — plus Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, the band is just one of the three musicians' ongoing projects. Leader Sandell, whose interests encompass contemporary composed and ethnic music as well as free improvisation is best-known for his association since 1988 with saxophonist Mats Gustafsson and percussionist Raymond Strid in Gush. Young bassist Berthling, is part of a working trio with Strid and saxman Fredrik Ljungkvist, and has toured with Gustafsson and saxist Ken Vandermark. Understated drum stylist Nilssen-Love not only played with Norway's Free Jazz father, saxophonist Frode Gjerstad, but also was part of the School Days quartet with Chicago's Vandermark and trombonist Jeb Bishop.
Each man is fully confident in his abilities and competent in drawing the others into his orbit. The five originals on the disc not only have a unity about them, but also suggest voicings and rhythms unique to the three musicians on this project.
Concentrating on the upper registers as he does on the title tune and "Elongate," Sandell skirts percussive hammering for ambidextrous run creation in such a way that the right hand definitely knows what the left is doing. Sometimes his solos will be as cold as a Swedish December and as speedy as a winter ski-do, other times he'll be as busy and alive with concentric chords as a Stockholm street scene.
Berthling appears to have equal facility playing arco or pizzicato. Plus with 30 years of contrabass alchemy now in the music's history, sounds that appear to be snapped rubber bands arise from his bass as easily as mournful bowed passages. Notable at times more for what he suggests, rather than plays, Nilssen-Love frequently veers from the sort of straight time needed on "Elongate" to tiny percussion droplets from bells and wood blocks on tunes such as "Axel".
Instructively, although part of STANDING WAVE was recorded "live" at the Edvard Munch museum, you hear no sounds from the audience; most were probably standing there open mouthed in awe.
Nilssen-Love is in the solo spotlight on STICKS & STONES. Though the title itself is a bit of a misnomer. Certainly his sticks — and mallets and brushes — are very much in evidence, but the only stones there are probably make up the walls of the Sofienberg church in which this session was recorded. However the breath of his accoutrements means that the disc is subtly subdivided in such a way that it seems as if you're getting a concert from three different percussionists. For variety's sake Nilssen-Love used three different drum sets here: a stripped down kit with only hi-hat, snare and cymbal; a standard jazz kit; and the third extended with more cymbals, bells, wood blocks and the like.
Whether by accident or design however, his percussive expertise is such that you can only guess which resonators are in use on which track. In this case consistency is a virtue.
As high energy and dynamic as his work may be, he craftily stays away from the clangorous blitzkrieg that characterized earlier free percussionists like Han Bennink. Whether he's carefully dragging a bow across a cymbal, or investigating the sonics that result from the exploitation of a jazz kit, or just measuring the echoes that arise from the judicious use of wood blocks and snares, his aim is to offer as much music as possible. Note that's music, not percussion music.
Whether it's one man's conception or the melded ideas of three, both of these discs offer exceptional sounds and disparate views of how to improvisations should be actualized.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Standing 1. Mural 2. Standing Wave 3. Axel 4. Edvard 5. Elongate
Personnel: Standing: Sten Sandal (piano); Johan Berthling (bass); Paal Nilssen-Love (drums, percussion)
Track Listing: Sticks: 1.No Way Out II 2. Snap 3. Sweet and Lovely 4. Butterfly Wings 5. Guleboy 6. Dots 7. Spots 8. Fast Colour 9. B 10. Hedda 11. No Way In
Personnel: Sticks: Paal Nilssen-Love (drums, percussion)