Space Available
Jazzland 014 724-2

Feet Music
Jazzland 016 558-2

Working musicians participate in many situations and our view of their talents is often shaped by the particular role in which we hear them.

Take Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, for instance. In North America, if he’s known at all, it’s for his work with countryman altoist Frode Gjerstad or as part of various bands led by Chicago’s Ken Vandermark, two roles that place him very firmly in the avant-garde.

Back at home however, he drums for other bands, including the trio and quintet featured on these two discs, which would only be classified as outside by the most rabid neo-con. Of course perception can affect hearing as well. Since musical reactionary thought gained currency with the Young Lions phenomenon, a band like Atomic, which named its disc after an Ornette Coleman composition may be thought of being beyond the traditional pale.

Instead, a close listen to the session will convince anyone with ears that this Feet Music marches not to a harmolodic beat, but to a straightforward 4/4 provided by

Nilssen-Love and bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, who also worked with Vandermark, exploratory Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, and with the drummer, made up a fusion rhythm section for Finnish-American guitarist Raoul Björkenheim. Although the bull fiddle player has an exploratory bowed solo on “El Coto”, you certainly wouldn’t describe the rhythm on a piece like “Do It” as anything but freebop or maybe free (hard) bop.

Swedish trumpeter Magnus Broo certainly approaches the fluidity of mid-period Jazz Messenger — and neo-con idol — Lee Morgan — on tunes such as “Longing For Martin” and “Prayer”. Other times, the brass blends sound as if they come straight out of 1950s West Coast jazz. But then again maybe that’s to be expected from someone like Broo who attended North Texas State University from 1984 to 1990, where the music program has long pledged eternal fealty to Stan Kenton. However, Broo’s sweet-and-sour soloing, contrasted with the deeper tones of Fredrik Ljungkvist’s tenor on his own “Den Flytiga Magneten”, sound more like Coleman associate Don Cherry than Chet Baker’s work with Gerry Mulligan.

The Swedish alto and tenor man is a special case as well. A switch hitter from outside to inside jazz and back again, he initially helped organize Atomic as a reaction against so-called mountain jazz, associated with the ECM school which characterized most Scandinavian improvising in the 1970s and 1980s. He too has freer associations with Gustafsson, French guitarist Marc Ducret and even went to Chicago to play with Ken Vandermark’s Territory Band in 2001.

Norwegian pianist Håvard Wiik is probably the most traditional man here with his light-toned comping throughout and exhibiting romantic single notes on his own “Psalm”. On “El Coto” in fact, he could be confused for ur-ECM stylist Keith Jarrett, although the horns delve into atonality. Wiik has backed up such leading Norwegian artists as bassist Arild Andersen and vocalist Karin Krog, who also record for ECM.

All in all, Feet Music is a satisfying contemporary outing, impressively in the same class as many releases by young North American jazzers.

SPACE AVAILABLE is another matter. One of those trio blowouts common since the 1950s heyday of Sonny Rollins, tenor saxophonist Håkon Kornstad has good company with which to stretch the rules.

Bassist Mats Eilertsen leads his own Charles Mingus-inspired sextet featuring Kornstad and works the bottom as much as he can here. Nilssen-Love, the eldest of the three at 28 (!), manages to fit in membership in LO-KO, a duo with Kornstad along with his other commitments. At the same time, conservatory-trained Kornstad has also had experience with No Spaghetti Edition, the local experimental large band, and has played with other advanced folk like drummer Ingar Zach.

With this disc generally a low-key affair, Kornstad wisely sticks mostly to tenor throughout. Sometimes, as on “Space Available” and “Peasant Song”, he exhibits a smooth tone that seems to owe something to onetime Scandinavian resident Stan Getz, or maybe Archie Shepp, who did, after all, record “Girl From Ipanema”. Behind him both Eilertsen and Nilssen-Love modals of accomplished restraint. With the bassist’s steady pulse and press roll and cymbal accents from the drummer, the saxman lets himself loose on Eilertsen’s “Intornette” with a mild case of reed-biting, but a pointed mini-quote from Ornette Coleman’s “Focus on Sanity” shows that he and the others don’t regard this CD as an out-and-out free session.

At times Eilertsen’s strumming and Nilssen-Love’s percussion accents frame some extended guttural breaths from the saxophonist, but the wiggling soprano saxophone tone he exhibits on “Summer Samba” was probably one experiment that should have been curtailed.

Probably the most illustrative action here, is the band’s deconstruction of Stephen Sondheim’s “Send In The Clowns”, staple of a thousand lounge acts. With the drummer sounding as if he’s quietly tapping his snares and toms with his palms, the melody is first subtly advanced by the bassist then given a slow-motion, funereal air by Kornstad. Impressive enough in execution, the saxman’s unruffled tone and adherence to the melody shows that pure improvisation is reserved for another situation.

Like FEET MUSIC, this CD offers another glimpse into modern Scandinavian mainstream, establishing that the improvisers there are as healthy and technically proficient as their North American counterparts, if a bit more adventurous.

With the collective talent assembled on both discs, it seems that almost every one of them could be capable of following Håker Flaten and Nilssen-Love into freer music. Imagine what would result then.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Feet: 1. Nära Grensen 2. Longing for Martin 3. Do it 4. Den Flytiga Magneten 5. Psalm 6. El Coto 7. Prayer 8. Fifth Circle 9. Krilons Resa

Personnel: Feet: Magnus Broo (trumpet); Fredrik Ljungkvist (soprano and tenor saxophones); Håvard Wiik (piano) Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (bass); Paal Nilssen-Love (drums)

Track Listing: Space: 1. Arched Shape 2. Send In The Clowns 3. Intornette 4. Q 5. Spring Song 6. Summer Samba 7. Space Available 8. Peasant Song

Personnel: Space: Håkon Kornstad (soprano and tenor saxophones); Mats Eilertsen (bass); Paal Nilssen-Love (drums)