Ken Vandermark / Mats Gustafsson / Ingebrigt Håker Flaten / Hamid Drake / Paal Nilssen-Love

January 7, 2017


NotTwo MW 930-2



Trost TR 146

By Ken Waxman

Seemingly more ubiquitous than a smart phone, Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love appears to be everywhere at once, especially when advanced improvised music is involved. Not only does the percussionist lead his own large unit and smaller aggregations, but he also turns up in groups led by players ranging from Frode Gjerstad to Peter Brötzmann. These recent sessions are particularly notable for a couple of reasons. Semikujira is the newest chapter in the history of an on-again/off-again trio made up of Nilssen-Love, Swedish bassist Johan Berthling and veteran Japanese alto saxophonist/clarinetist Akira Sakata. Ratcheting the intensity level up into the red zone, Collider solders together The Thing, the drummer’s punk-jazz trio with Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafsson and Norwegian bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten with its U.S. counterpoint, the DKV trio of reedist Ken Vandermark, bassist Kent Kessler and drummer Hamid Drake.

Like a recurring guest star on a sit-com, Vandermark is a frequent Nilssen-Love collaborator. More notably Collider is an opportunity to compare the styles of the Norwegian and Drake, his American doppelganger, who seems to be behind every drum kit that Nilssen-Love isn’t. Those expecting a Rich vs. Roach confrontation will be disappointed. Instead the drummer function more like the Doublemint Twins throughout: doubling the flavor. That’s why “Moving Map” is so crucial. During the ebb-and-flow of its 24 minutes, the tensile creativity of both percussionists is discernible, with one vibrating cymbals and the other crunching the bass drum. As the dual bassists underscore the narrative with a menacing rumble, the reedists perform an intricate do-si-do, with first Vandermark’s clarinet squeals then Gustafsson’s smearing filibuster of a tenor solo moving upfront. Notwithstanding post-Aylerian cries from the horns, the bass-drum teams maintain a groove which mixes intensity with translucency. When mid-way through each drummer takes a solo, the abrasions of metal and wood on skin align flashiness with fragility, proving either can maintain a groove nearly inaudibly as well as thunderously. Finally the performance turns full circle, with the four-piece rhythm section underlying a serpentine duel between the saxophonists from the aviary top (Vandermark) and hippo-like bottom (Gustafsson) of their horns.

Surrounding this are two expositions. Drake and Nilssen-Love maintain a shuffle beat on “Cards”, backing the reedists’ dyspeptic smears, percussive tongue slaps and hoarse roars, all introduced by a pressurized bowed bass set-up, likely from Kessler. Ending is a turnaround to a melodic though leathery R&B-like pulse, “Left and Left Again” at its most forceful when baritone and tenor saxophones vamp with conjoined twins-like sympathy. Such is the double trio’s skill that before concluding the piece doubles in tempo without losing one measure.

Nilssen-Love’s commanding drum expression is put to the test on Semikujira since Sakata’s take-no-prisoners approach could be termed kamikaze, if the reedist’s cooperative nature wasn’t also invoked. Unlike soldiers in the Japanese army who singlehandedly held on to island territory long after the Second World War, Sakata’s take on free jazz may combine torqued freak notes that teeter as if they’re being gashed by a samurai sword plus vocalized subterrestrial growls that could be sourced from a Nipponese horror flick, but he leaves space for Berthling’s buxom strung strokes and the drummer’s perfectly positioned accents. An amphibious vessel like “Blow of Humpback Whale” for instance doesn’t shake its moorings to become lost in the choppy atonal sea due to Berthling anchoring string thumps. Like a blueprint for the rest of the disc, the careening “Saitaro Bushi-Atlantis-Version” puts the trio’s skills in boldest relief. Each musician plays multiple roles. Sakata’s savage output mates a Viking warrior’s berserker-styled yodeling with a Brötzmann-like fearless reed exposition; the bassist simultaneously accompanies and guides the others; while the drummer, like comic book villain turned hero, supplements overbearing percussion violence with the welcoming, echoing tones of Buddhist temple-like gongs. These discs demonstrate how Nilssen-Love’s percussion strengths and smarts can be put to premium musical use in an East and West or Europe meets America programs, without losing any of his singular power, but with similar superior results.

Track Listing: Semikujira: Snowing on the Temple Garden; Blow of Humpback Whale; Saitaro Bushi-Atlantis Version; Sheep said again Wolf is Coming; Semikujira

Personnel: Semikujira: Akira Sakata: alto saxophone, clarinet and voice; Johan Berthling: bass; Paal Nilssen-Love: drums and percussion

Track Listing: Collider: Cards; Moving Map; Left and Left Again

Personnel: Collider: Ken Vandermark: tenor, baritone saxophones, Bb clarinet; Mats Gustafsson: tenor, baritone saxophones; Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, Kent Kessler: bass; Hamid Drake, Paal Nilssen-Love: drums

–For The New York City Jazz Record January 2017