The Cliff of Time
PNL 022

No-holds-barred Free Jazz, the four selections on this CD are very firmly in the tradition established by Albert Ayler and others 50 years ago, but equally connected to the 21st Century. No longer the New Thing; Free Improv, like other styles of Jazz, has spread throughout the world with many other players besides (Black) Americans adding their own textures and ideas.

Case in point is this CD which unites a nearly-70-year-old Japanese saxophonist/clarinetist, who has been exploring Free Jazz since its beginnings, with one American and two Norwegians in their thirties and forties who maintain Free-Jazz proficiency alongside skills in other musics. It’s no surprise that alto saxophonist and bass clarinetist Akira Sakta is able to hit the ground running in these situations having played with figures as disparate as Jim O`Rourke and Peter Brötzmann. Never at a loss for a rhythmic pattern, Oslo-based percussionist Paal Nilssen-Love, has over the past 20 years worked in groups ranging from duos to big bands. Demonstrative saxophonists are frequently his partners, with the drummer in on-going relationships with Mats Gustafsson, Brötzmann, Fride Gjerstad and Joe McPhee among others. Chicago-based cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm is as busy with about as many bands as the percussionist; while Oslo-based guitarist Ketil Gutvik is moving out from gigs in the Scandinavian scene to work with other Europeans.

Taken as a whole, it’s Gutvik’s string-shredding, staccato lick which distinguishes this quartet from others. Of an age where Rock has been part of his six-string DNA, the guitarist uses his bellicose Metal attributes judiciously, often building up to splayed ripostes alongside the dagger-like slices of Lonberg-Holm’s cello extrusions. Plus his strategy mixes fleet note bending with explosive oscillations generated from the cellist’s electronics output. At the same time during chasms of composure on pieces such as “The Women in The Dunes” and especially “When a Women Ascends the Stairs”, Gutvik’s off-side and oblique picking in a Derek Bailey-like-vein confirms that diffidence provides the necessary counterpoint to swagger, creating more profound improvisations.

Nonetheless raw excitement is the catchphrase here and the drummer does much to engender it. In his solos, Nilssen-Love is never boisterous or overbearing for their own sake(s). But he knows exactly when a spelunking ruff or a display of rattles and clunks will make the interface more intense. He also knows when to pull back. The sweeps and curves of Sakata’s bass clarinet sequence on “The Dancing Girl of Izu” gain additional emotional resonance in part because it’s backed by rippling electronics and string buzzes, as well as not really having to war against anything more menacing or louder than pops from the drummer. In the end, unique snaky reed discordance gives Sakata the power he needs so that his non-amplified, lung-powered instrument attains the same prominence as the others’ output in the mix.

Never wearing out their welcome and constantly producing delightful and decisive patterns as they play the members of this international quartet’s time and tempo sense is too sophisticated to go off any sonic cliff. By the end the band capably demonstrates the continued validity of barely constrained free-form improvising.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. The Women In The Dunes 2. The Dancing Girl of Izu 3. Face of Another 4. When a Women Ascends the Stairs

Personnel: Akira Sakata (alto saxophone and Bb clarinet); Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello and electronics); Ketil Gutvik (guitar) and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums and percussion)