First Detail
Rune Grammofon RCD 2166

By Ken Waxman

Odd man out who plays hot free, rather than cool Nordic, jazz Stavanger-based multi-reedist Frode Gjerstad (b.1948) had to wait for the 21st Century and his nurturing of a new generation of Norwegian improvisers to gain local accolades. Starting in the ‘80s however, it was overseas that he connected with like-minded associates and this fascinating CD preserves the first-ever session by the Detail group, whose impetus came from freewheeling British drummer John Stevens (1940-1990), Gjerstad’s first and most important foreign contact. Stevens, who would have turned 75 this month, was one of the progenitors of BritImprov in the mid-‘60s, founded the Spontaneous Music Ensemble and worked with dizzying array of other musicians in many contexts. Detail’s first long-standing configuration was a trio with bassist Johnny Dyani. But for one year it was a quartet including Stavanger keyboardist Eivin One Pedersen (1956-2012), a long time Gjerstad associate, who along with the reedist and drummer, completes the nascent trio here.

First Detail’s three hitherto unreleased tracks from 1982 suggest why Pedersen eventually quit Detail. A weighty pacesetter in every sense of the word, his solos frequently reach Brubeckian density and dominance. With Stevens’ beats sparse and oblique these performances’ ebullience comes from the contrast between Pedersen’s steamroller-like thrusts and the resilient responses from Gjerstad. The contrast works effectively on “First Version” as bass clarinet obbligatos taunt tremolo piano motions. In contrast though, Pedersen’s kinetic piano rumbles are so intense on “This is the” that the saxophonist’s vibrating glossolalia is coerced into penetrating shrills and Stevens’ drumming takes on a harder edge. Each part is like a singular amoeba touching but never merging into a coherent whole. The final “Of Detail” steers a middle course as Gjerstad’s hawk-like gliding soprano sax smears eventually make common cause with the arabesque grinds from the darkest parts of the piano soundboard, following a fantastic display of accelerating thematic tension from the keyboardist.

A thrilling revelation of what might have been, with each player improvising superlatively; First Detail’s constant sound confrontation also foretells the division that would soon rupture this version of the band.

Tracks: This is the; First Version; Of Detail

Personnel: Frode Gjerstad: tenor and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet, alto flute; Eivin One Pedersen: piano and keyboards; John Stevens: drums

—For The New York City Jazz Record June 2015