Frode Gjerstad (b.1948, Stavanger, Norway) is an exciting player. That much has been clear since his first recordings from the early 1980s with his group Detail, a number of which appeared on his own label, Circulasione Totale, and in the mid ‘90s on a series of recordings on Cadence Jazz Records. It wasn’t until September 1997, when I first produced Frode, that I realized how thoughtful and sensitive an artist he truly is. The occasion was a totally improvised date with the ad hoc grouping of Bobby Bradford, Wilber Morris, and Newman Taylor Baker. The recording is a prime example of four talents who really can think and extemporize in a most coherent and purposeful manner and remains one of my favorite recordings of all four of the individual artists. But it was Frode’s date and he let it inspire and happen.
Even so, when he contacted me in December 2007 about a planned tour and the possibility of a mutual interest in recording him, as is my way I inquired about focus, concepts, and purpose (“Humor this producer,” were my exact words.). For I felt he was well documented on recordings and CIMP has never been interested in merely documenting more. This query of mine is a process which unintentionally can offend established musicians who interpret it as a kind of request for an audition. But Frode, without hesitation, said what he wanted to do was “concentrate on the smaller sounds.” That he had recently done “a gig like that… and it showed us using some other sides of ourselves other than what we would normally be doing… It would be tight and intimate, sometimes a bit loud.” And that it would permit him to “go into very tiny details.” He also promised it would be an excellent record. I can’t remember any musician ever promising anything less.
Working with an artist over an extended period, one develops an artistic confidence in an individual. And so we set the recording date to fall between concerts in Syracuse, New York, and Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
Paal Nilssen-Love (b.1974, Molde, Norway) is new to The Spirit Room but not new to Frode, who served somewhat as a mentor to him in the late 1980s and utilized Paal in a number of his recordings. To the cognoscenti he has become a familiar hyphen, from his recordings with a number of cooperative groups and, more recently, his association with Ken Vandermark.
The duo arrived around noon, ate some lunch, warmed up, and then were subverted by the LP, CD, and book stocks. At around 3 p.m. they began the sound check but were delayed by my tossing a towel to Frode, that, when it deflected off his shoulder, landed on and destroyed his clarinet reed. Now, a comfortable reed is a pleasure and the quest for such is quite an undertaking. (Ernie Krivda, for example, goes through dozens on every recording, trying to achieve or at least maintain a sound to his liking.) To find the ideal reed only to have it destroyed can be a real, albeit temporary, frustration.
A number of mea culpas ensued and then the sound check and acclimation to The Spirit Room continued. And continued until a bit before 5 p.m. when everything was in place and Frode wanted to start recording. After some sound checks (powerful dynamics and some great dynamic range), Frode did an about-face and fell into a rather focused and unforced conversation with Paal on a very fine opener, omitted here due only to time restrictions. When I observed what a turnaround it was from the sound check, Frode said simply, “Yeah. Why not?” picked up his bass clarinet and intoned, “I’m ready to record,” and again developed a text which Paal easily played into. There is an obvious musical comfort between these two—and a good contrast as well—in the dissonance of some of Frode’s work and the near traditional rhythms of Paal’s work.
After Downtown Frode chose his alto, launched into a blast, but, sensing he got off on the wrong foot, called an incomplete take and quickly reconfigured with Paal on Metropolis, completing the afternoon’s hat trick. Whole cloth from threads—it’s a remarkable weave, this improvised music.
At this point I figured we’d stop for supper, but Frode said he wanted to continue to play; he felt good. So he did and the acerbic Redwood is the result—a wonderful example of the muscle- tensing and -release of this music. It proved to be the peak. And then we ate.
Three well fed and relaxed hours later, we were back at it, opening with a blistering Casa. During supper, Frode talked about how playing and practicing was like a physical exercise that made him feel better. Before opening the second session, he wondered if perhaps he had eaten too much—Casa may be the connection.
And does anyone else handle the clarinet like Frode? Perhaps one could characterize it as a clarisax on this tour de force.
After Casa I asked Frode if that wasn’t exhausting to his embouchure. He shook his head “No,” said “OK” to Paal and, within 15 seconds of finishing Casa, was into Rough Idea and back to a more conversational approach.
Bohemian Home followed, with more strength on strength, as was Beachland.
Intense and no-nonsense. Makes perfect sense to me. For this listener it was quite a ride. And for you?