Thursday, May 10, 2012
The Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love has made a fast and hard-hitting impact on many recordings in the national and international scene of free-jazz and improv these last years. Whether as a band member of Peter Brötzmann's Chicago Tentet, the assembly of some of the leading musicians of today’s free-jazz, or in the powerful Hairy Bones also including the said German. Also worth mentioning are the remarkable recordings with Lasse Marhaug, either in the jazz-strangeness Fire Room, also including Ken Wandermark, or their duo collaboration release Stalk of the more sound-noise-improv-less-jazz style. No surprise then, that he was invited to Ethiopia by the Dutch-weird-punks from The Ex, to do the ‘Free the Jazz’ Saxophone project, alongside other acclaimed musicians such as Ken Vandermark and Mats Gustafsson. The Ex has been going to the Horn of Africa for many years, starting back in 2002, and the idea is to do collaborative works with different Ethiopian musicians. So, at the end of this trip, Paal, Mats and the Krar-player Mesele Asmamaw, decided that they wanted to record (A Krar is a five- or six-stringed bowl-shaped lyre, btw…and yes, I had to look it up!). They joined forces in room 101 of the Baro Hotel in Addis Abeba, and did this free improvised recording.
Baro 101 was an album I had great expectations to. Mainly because I know and enjoy a lot of the projects Nilssen-Love has been a part of. I did not know much of what Gustafsson has been doing other than the Tentet, and Asmamaw I had never even heard of. But excited as I was, the first listen made me unusually aware of the conversation between the musicians. Not that I understood what they were ‘talking’ about, anyway. But most times new music makes me feel something, either good or bad. Not this one at first. How strange. I was intrigued how they responded to each other’s outbursts or repetitiveness or how they moved together in wilder more unpredictable ways. It made me wonder more about what was happening in the room. But then it started getting to me. I started getting the chills. Wonderful chills created by the sounds being shoved into my mind. The diversity of the conversation creating shapes and structures of sounds, and suddenly I saw the African animals of the safari I went to many years ago. Elephants moving slowly towards the water, spiced with the musician’s conversation about the fun they had during the Ethiopian adventurous project. Or the traffic jam in the streets outside the hotel one busy afternoon. All of which is probably my own crap in my own head anyway, but still, they play well together, making wonderful sound-landscape. The saxophone is very evident, almost a major focal point during the entire album. Followed by the drums and spiced by the Krar and occasionally wonderful singing by Asmamaw.
The overall impression is very much live in the room, as it is. Often times improvised recordings, being unedited as this is, can have ups and downs. Some periods of genial music, others of not that fantastic or even quite crappy. So not with this album. It goes in many directions. Sometimes they loop, or a nice melody comes together. It is massive, subtle, has beats, rhythm, no rhythm, its minimal, chaotic, or sometimes concentrated on a point, or goes in every direction possible. And the conversation! No elephant talk here! It made me wanting more, going to a concert, or wishing I was in the room. For me, Barolo 101 is one musical highlight of this year.
This review is also available in Freq Music Magazine