Most Americans see Norway as a region filled with giant musical question marks. But the frigid birthplace of black metal is also home to a thriving jazz-improv scene that revolves around an interlocking group of musicians. And Frode Gjerstad has been at the center of the movement since the 1980s.
The sax and clarinet player runs his own label and frequently collaborates with Norway's most accomplished instrumentalists. He also founded the Circulasione Totale Orchestra, a workshop group for young musicians.
Over the past quarter-century, Gjerstad has played with many heavyweights from across the globe. In the U.S., his horns have sparred with William Parker's bass and Hamid Drake's skins. He's recorded albums with European free-jazz luminary Peter Brotzmann. Paal Nilssen-Love, the prolific drummer in Gjerstad's current all-Norwegian trio, has gigged with Chicagoan Ken Vandermark and is also a member of Brotzmann's monstrous Tentet ensemble. Nilssen-Love and bassist Øyvind Storesund balance Gjerstad's fondness for Ornette Coleman-style harmolodic runs and John Coltrane-like epiphany-fire riffs. Together, the trio is capable of stepping on the gas and punching up a rhythmic cacophony onstage. Or they can downshift to a blues rattle that flickers and swings. In the spirit of great free-jazz, the group's internal language allows for kinetic interplay, with solos that swirl and beautifully unpredictable percussion.