FRODE GJERSTAD

Last First
Falçata-Galia FALÇ-0007/0079

No matter how proficient the musicians are, every group takes time to find its particular niche and gel into a coherent whole. Especially vulnerable are diminutive groups such as trios, which alter considerably along with the players. No one, for instance, could confuse the Jimmy Giuffre 3 with Jim Hall and Ralph Peña with Giuffre’s trio featuring Paul Bley and Steve Swallow, or mix up Sonny Rollins’ recording with Ray Brown and Shelly Manne with his session with Henry Grimes and Pete LaRoca.

Norwegian alto saxophonist Frode Gjerstad has had to face this challenge a couple of times. His trio of the 1980 and 1990s with South African bassist Johnny Dyani and British drummer John Stevens had to be reconstructed after first one, than the other man died. Then his trio with bassist William Parker and drummer Hamid Drake couldn’t work frequently enough, since the American rhythm section was made up of two of in improv’s most in-demand players.

Now, for the first time in his life, the veteran woodwind player has a trio completed by fellow countrymen. Bassist Øyvind Storesund and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love are considerably younger than Gjerstad, but they proved their mettle with him on a recently released premium Cadence Jazz CD dedicated to Stevens.

LAST FIRST actually precedes that disc by about 10 months, and it’s fascinating to hear the group sound taking shape on it. Unlike Gjerstad’s other bands, which were by necessity long-distance affairs, this group has had time to develop through multiple gigs and rehearsals.

Interestingly enough, bassist Storesund, the least known group member, is more upfront on this completely improvised session then he would be later on. A rock-solid timekeeper like Parker, he’s the link between Nilssen-Love’s abstruse and refined percussion and the solo flights of Gjerstad on alto saxophone, alto flute and bass clarinet. You can hear the partnership locking into place midway through the proceedings. After the bassist sounds all his strings with an extended arco flourish, he’s met with a stick exploration of snare press rolls, rim shots and the occasional toe pedal bass drum hump, from the percussionist who ends this collaboration with a single cymbal sizzle.

While very much his own man — he had to be since he was Norway’s entire jazz avant garde until this younger generation came along — Gjerstad can move from sharp, reed biting trills in the highest register of the saxophone to barely accented breathy asides. Here, featured on the same instruments that were part of Eric Dolphy’s arsenal, he exhibits a distinctive personality on each horn.

Except for pro forma basement swoops, he usually concentrates on the highest registers of the bass clarinet and squeaks away. When he does that Storesund defines the pulse with mighty Walter Page-like bridge work, and Nilssen-Love, who has also put in time in saxist Ken Vandermark’s School Days quartet and as part of Swedish pianist Sten Sandal’s trio, decorates the proceedings with percussion filigrees. Elsewhere, bowed bass notes mesh with lower register clarinet tones to such an extent that you can’t tell which is the originating instrument.

Unsentimentally romantic on flute, there are times Gjerstad can blow multiphonics out of the metal tube; other times he produces a more traditional melody, most definitely as part of the mini-overture that opens this disc. Storesund works in the cello range at that point, while Nilssen-Love counters with a free jazz rumble, very much in the Stevens tradition, belying his ongoing experience with fusion bands.

On alto, the saxophonist unveils an improv vocabulary of tongue slaps and duck quacks, with protracted pauses to introduce the tracks’ different sections. At intervals Gjerstad’s conception involves forcing air through a tube like the most committed minimalist, other times he gets involved in fjord funk, honking away in what could practically be the tenor register. On a couple of tracks from the CD’s end he even sounds as if he’d like to start playing “Night In Tunisia”, as the three start grooving on quasi-Afro Cuban riffs.

Few bands appear as fully formed as Dolly, the sheep after a cloning experiment. But some lucky ones manage to avoid the fumbles and foibles associated with group birth pains. As this CD demonstrates, this trio was one of them.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Last First Part 1 2. Last First Part2 3. Last First Part 3 4. Last First Part 4 5. Last First Part 5 6. Last First Part 6 7. Last First Part 7 8. Last First Part 8 9. Last First Part 9 10. Last First Part 10 11. Last First Part 11 12. Last First Part 12 13. Last First Part 13

Personnel: Frode Gjerstad (alto saxophone, alto flute, bass clarinet); Øyvind Storesund (bass); Paal Nilssen-Love (drums)