By Tim Niland
This is a crackling album of modern and free jazz featuring Frode Gjerstad on alto saxophone, Steve Swell on trombone, Jon Rune Strom on bass and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums and percussion, recorded live in performance in September of 2017 at the Bop Stop in Cleveland. This album is raw and unfettered modern free jazz with hints of the aforementioned bop (Albert Ayler and Joe Lovano both got their starts playing bebop in Cleveland, so the well runs deep here) with long stretches of abstract improvisation keeping the music unpredictable and fresh. This is clear from the opening selection “Bop Stop” where the playing can be strong and fierce, but like the rest of the album, there are places for smaller units to break out of the larger whole for solo statements and duo conversations. “Pop Bop” is an ample demonstration of this with saxophone and trombone painting swathes of impressionistic sound colors in the open space ceded to them when the bass and drums lay out. When the bass returns to action it develops a low and grinding bowed sound that adds a gritty texture along with depth and heft to the music with the punctuation of percussive slapping. The drums enter at last, developing a rattling and clanking rhythm, supporting Gjerstad’s unique saxophone voice which is a salty mixture of the European free improvisation and American free jazz approaches. Dynamism and contrasting textures are important to the success of this performance as it builds to a crushing drum solo which takes the music in an exciting new direction. Everyone then comes together for an epic blowing session of collective improvisation, with trombone and saxophone blasting over roiling bass and drums. The conclusion of the album is “Post Stop” which features raw and rending sounds from the alto saxophone and trombone providing a sense of alarm and anxiety that adds further light and shade to the music. Brief touches of melody sit astride strong a strong rhythmic foundation, and leads the band into a powerful and frenetic finish. The members of the group communicate in a very meaningful fashion, from harsh and grating to soft, abstract and subtle. This was a very well done album of music that ebbs and flows in a very affecting manner and leaves the listener with the feeling of having experienced an exciting and immediate performance.