All sorts of jazz, free jazz and improv. Never for money, always for love.
Even for a musician of Frode Gjerstad’s stature - he has been active
internationally since the early ‘80s with a panoply of improvising
brethren - New York can still be a tough town. Coming in as part of a
short Christmas tour, his gig at Jimmy’s was unceremoniously cancelled.
So he was to be found Dec. 11th packed into the back of Downtown Music
Gallery with bassist Øyvind Storesund, drummer Paal Nilssen-Love and
guest Steve Swell, playing to a sizeable and appreciative crowd of
regulars. The group soldiered on amicably, Nilssen-Love’s pyrotechnics
limited to a snare, hi-hat and one cymbal and Gjerstad’s alto and
clarinet as biting and probing as it has been for decades.
A portion of Gjerstad’s discography - for his own label Circulasione Totale and others - has been given over to the saxophone trio. Even with Swell in tow at Downtown, the threesome of Gjerstad, Storesund and Nilssen-Love generated most of the momentum. Ten years and a few months prior, Gjerstad had another gig in New York with another impressive rhythm section: late bassist Wilbur Morris and drummer Rashid Bakr. This Knitting Factory concert has now been released as part of Ayler Records’ download-only series and demonstrates that Gjerstad is above all things a committed improviser.
With Morris and Bakr, perhaps Gjerstad’s aesthetic is a little more ‘American’ and the rhythms more stable but lengthy exploration is still the catchall. The disc is composed of three involved improvisations: “Sound” (at over 30 minutes), “Sound Sight”, which at four minutes is a slow breather after “Sound”’s fire and “Sight”, 27 minutes of rested and restive Gjerstad.
What one takes away from this disc, the concert or indeed his whole career, is that Gjerstad, as any improviser worth his salt should, embraces challenging playing situations with a range of individuals yet is steadfast in remaining himself.
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