Of his ten-year relationship as part of the Cecil Taylor Unit, bassist William Parker writes "It is great music, but you have to be a great musician to play it because you are given so much freedom that it can become meaningless...(Jimmy Lyons) knew his horn and he didn't just honk and scream, he had a language...while at the same time he maintained and developed his own identity."
No strangers to the aforementioned free-jazz pitfalls, trumpeter (and sole non-Norwegian of the group) Bobby Bradford (here on cornet), sax / clarinetist Frode Gjerstad, bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love gathered at the 2008 Molde International Jazz Festival. Drawing on their ridiculously extensive experience, you will be happy to know they capably passed Parker's test.
Filling the sonic spectrum with an incredible amount of information, the quartet rips through an hour-long set best described, in the jazz parlance, as smoking: nimble and explosive, bordering on mayhem, but a controlled chaos. Largely eschewing extended techniques and completely forgoing garish instrument supplements (i.e. amplification, electronic manipulation), they attack from their respective corners with virtuosic showmanship and prowess, navigating through tangling rhythmic highways, aggrandized forms and harmonic accord / relocation / dispersion. Nilssen-Love's fleet, multi-armed waves of crashes, pedal taps, rolls and multi-stylistic patterns conjoin with Håker Flaten's lyrical rumble, a rhythm section met with Bradford's tendency to rasp and sway and Gjerstad's ability to go from graceful to squealing like a dog on fire to prolonged, dashing, technically perfect scalar runs.
The group knows how to step aside and let the individual members shine, but glories in nearly stepping on toes — while making the latter gestures seamless and congruent to the global push. During "Reknes 4", Bradford bursts to the front with a lick from Stravinski's regal Ballerina Dance (from Petrushka), reconfiguring and transposing the phrase. Do the other three follow? Håker Flaten digs deep with a wrenching, bowed grind, someone comes close to yodeling, Nilssen-Love adopts a Latin funk groove with someone (possibly the yodeler) calling out the down beats. Dexterously, Gjerstad eludes and instantly takes the work back to a sprint, never missing a beat or breaking the spell.
A note about the mixing: captured in near-mono, the recording lends itself to the bare-knuckles jaunt and inspires nostalgia for records where the fight was the performance, not the display of microphone, EQ and compression techniques.
Reknes, however, is not a one-up competition; nor does its strength lie in an obvious devotion to, as Parker relates, a higher power. It is simply this: fun. This group is fun. Quoth Gjerstad: "Isn't it important to enjoy what you are doing? And if you enjoy what you do, presumably you will do it much better. And if you like what you are doing you will do it with conviction. And then the audience, hopefully, will appreciate an honest performance." Yes, we do appreciate it.
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