Gard Nilssen’s Supersonic Orchestra – Family
(We Jazz Records – Album review by Peter Slavid)
Gard Nilssen’s Supersonic Orchestra is a monster. And like all monsters it can be fierce, scary, and yet incredibly fascinating, or to say the least, impossible to ignore.
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It’s not easy to describe either, but its made up of 11 horns, plus 3 double basses and 3 drum sets, and that will already give an impression of its power. I could add that the seventeen musicians include the cream of Scandinavian improvisers.
Nilssen himself is a prolific drummer who plays in a number of other bands including his own Acoustic Unity, and the power trio Bushman´s Revenge, and he is joined here by Motif drummer Håkon Mjåset Johansen and Atomic drummer Hans Hulbækmo. That trio of drummers with backgrounds in rock rhythms and fierce improvising is the driving force throughout the band.
When it came out in 2020, the band’s previous album If You Listen Carefully The Music Is Yours, was on a lot of Top 20 album lists (including mine!). This album, recorded live in concert at Mondrian Jazz in the Netherlands, is just as good.
What’s fascinating about this band is the way it mixes and jumps between strong melodies and seemingly chaotic collective improvisation, from melodic riffs to ferocious improvising. It’s a bit reminiscent of the Dutch ICP – Instant Composers Pool Orchestra. The compositions are complex and intricate and shift rapidly, but always underpinned by those three drummers and three basses.
“Letter to Alfred” starts fairly conventionally – a long bass intro from Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, a gentle horn melody over the bass, then a sax solo from Eirik Hegdal becoming increasingly fierce as the other horns come in sweetly behind.
“Supersonic” opens with some collective improvisation which gradually becomes increasingly frenetic until it morphs into a rapid riff followed by a deliciously dissonant melody from the horns. Eventually this is replaced by a trombone duo from Erik Johannessen and Guro Kvåle which is followed by a sax trio. As the alto sax of Maciej Obara builds momentum, the band starts some short riffs behind. Then collective chaos erupts until it ends.
The closing track “SP68” opens with some raucous trumpet over lots of percussion as the band gradually builds a riff behind them. Eventually this features a blistering solo from Kjetil Møster taking us to a powerful melodic end – and since it’s a live album, lots of applause.
This is an exhilarating 66 minutes from one of the most exciting modern big bands around. Since seventeen piece bands don’t get to tour very often, the chances of seeing them live are slim, so this album is as close as most people will get, and although it may leave you wanting the real thing, it’s a pretty good substitute.
PERSONNEL: André Roligheten / tenor sax, bass saxophone, bass clarinet, percussion Eirik Hegdal / sopranino sax, C-melody sax, Bb clarinet, percussion Per ”Texas” Johansson / tenor sax, contrabass clarinet, Bb clarinet, percussion Kjetil Møster / tenor sax, baritone saxophone, Bb clarinet, percussion Mette Rasmussen / alto sax, percussion Maciej Obara / alto sax, percussion Signe Emmeluth / alto sax, percussion Thomas Johansson / trumpet, percussion Goran Kajfes / trumpet, percussion Erik Johannessen / trombone, percussion Guro Kvåle / trombone, percussion Petter Eldh / double bass, percussion Ole Morten Vågan / double bass, percussion Ingebrigt Håker Flaten / double bass, percussion Håkon Mjåset Johansen / drums, percussion Hans Hulbækmo / drums, percussion Gard Nilssen / drums, percussion