By Tim Niland
Gard Nilssen has made quite a name for himself in the potent Scandinavian jazz scene as a member of powerhouse bands like Cortex (they had my album of the year in 2016 with Live in New York, and took second place this year with Avant-Garde Party Music) and the always exciting Bushman’s Revenge. This is a triple disc set of Nilssen’s excellent Acoustic Unity band with the addition of some special guests, and it never overstays its welcome, because the music is challenging and exciting throughout, and the musicians are playing their hearts out in each setting, performing improvised music in its purest form, live and without any safety net. Acoustic Unity played in the North Sea Jazz Festival, the Ljubljana Jazz Festival and the Oslo Jazz Festival in 2016 and their full sets were recorded at each of those venues. The main band consists of Nilssen on drums, Petter Eldh on bass and André Roligheten on tenor and soprano saxophones. They are assisted by Fredrik Ljungkvist on tenor saxophone and clarinet during the Ljubljana concert and Kristoffer Berre Alberts on alto, tenor and baritone saxophones and Jørgen Mathisen on tenor saxophone and clarinet during the Olso concert. This band plays a tight and muscular form of modern jazz with aspects of free improvisation and deep group empathy. During their set from the North Sea Jazz Festival, it is just the core trio and their music has been honed by the length of time they have been playing together and powerful wallop of the band’s sound comes for the crucible of playing many concerts together and developing a telepathic mindset. There improvisations are very powerful, and they are able to move in an a continuously impressive manner whether the music comes in a melodic or freely improvised format. The final track of the Ljubljana Jazz Festival concert shows how lyrically subtle the band can be. Although they may be at their most exciting at full throttle, this performance shows that they can conjure emotion at a hushed silence, with the horns playing quietly and the rhythm section playing with the utmost tact and respect. The Oslo concert opens with a wonderfully over the top free jazz wailer with the band reaching for the stars as the horns play unforgettably raw and vibrant music and Nilssen and the bassist shovel in the rocket fuel in the form of a relentless rhythmic powerhouse. They drop down to a stoic and well earned bass solo which is very impressive and thoughtful, leading into the second track of the concert where the horns raise the roof with raw and fascinating playing. The expanded three horn front line gets a massive sound, creating sub-themes to explore, ad launching individual members into solos that are true voyages of discovery. The music on this album is frenetic and exciting, with a powerhouse rhythm section and an excellent front line that are very generous when playing solos and ensemble passages.