Frode Gjerstad Trio - The Other Side

Derek Taylor, Bagatellen

The Other Side presents Norwegian Frode Gjerstad in the company of two of his personal heroes, Hamid Drake and William Parker. Both were initially tapped in 1997 when the saxophonist won a national contest in his native country allowing him the opportunity to tour with players of his choosing. Several years and prodigious meetings later the three convened again for another tour, taking extra time in Chicago for a quick studio date. Four improvised pieces, each one affixed with a largely incidental title, follow the trio through a succession of temperaments and designs.

The lengthy “First Cut” seethes with a percolating tension, Gjerstad’s acerbic horn slicing at the undulating free pulse woven by his partners. Whinnies, stutters and trilling cries are all part of his hard-bitten parlance in conversation with Parker’s trampoline pizzicato. Drake’s snare tattoos signal a switch to semi-countable meter and Gjerstad’s alto rejoins with a string of steam-whistle legato strains. A rubber band bass ostinato, making full elastic use of Parker’s amplification shoots the trio in and out of a groove and despite Gjerstad’s spirited and nimble blasts, it’s the rhythm team that dominates for the remainder of the piece.

The title of “The Ballade” transmits its romantic traits in advance. Gjerstad concentrates on gauzy intonation and dilatory delivery while Parker and Drake go minimalist, relying on a shared canny sense of space. The bassist’s ensuing harmonics are pitch perfect, proof again of his enduring master status as manipulator of stretched horsehair and the drummer’s cymbal accents complete the semblance of some lost Mingus Workshop piece. The resultant mood is infatuation mixed with an emotional garnish of iron filings and broken glass. On the title track, Parker trades bass for a convincing turn on flute while Drake builds a breath-like perambulating beat on frame drum. Gjerstad alters his attack again, aerating his line in an overlapping rhythmic cycle that skirts the edges of soulful Jim Pepper-style R&B. The set wraps with Drake setting down his sticks and ceding time to tart-tasting duet piece for Gjerstad and Parker. The pair makes the most of it in a tangle of temerarious lines that goes on a bit too long, but still packs a potent heat.