Paal Nilssen-Love Large Unit
Paal Nilssen-Love has been one of the world's most prolific and active musicians that came out of Norway for the last 20 years. With thousands of gigs and hundreds of recordings the drummer is known for bands like The Thing, OffOnOff, Ballister, Hairy Bones, Chicago Tentet, and Original Silence, as well as collaborations with musicians like Arto Lindsay, Otomo Yoshihide, Akira Sakata, Ken Vandermark, Jim O'Rourke, Peter Brötzmann, Thurston Moore, Michiyo Yagi and many others.
In 2013 Nilssen-Love decided it was time to start his own big band ensemble. Consisting of mostly younger Norwegian musicians, Large Unit manifests as an intense powerhouse force on stage, but also veers into more subtle and textural passages. The group is also fortunate to include members from the other Nordic countries; Finland, Sweden and Denmark. In other words, Nordic music as it's best! Large Unit burst into life at the Molde Jazzfestival July 2013 and has since then toured Norway and played festivals all over Europe. A small taste of what to expect came with the two-track EP "First Blow," but during autumn 2014, Large Unit unleashed its full load with the massive debut album called "Erta Ale" – which was released in four different formats totalling more than two hours worth of new music. Large Unit was expanded to 14 members (including two Brazilian percussionists) in August 2015 and recorded live and studio which resulted in the CD named "ANA". The album combines Brazilian rhythms, free blowing and big band riffing in a highly successful way.
Large Unit music is all compositions written by Nilssen-Love, but the musicians are always given great freedom to contribute their own flavours to the music. The band is stripped down to single players, duos, etc. and at times split into several groups. The power of the whole groups is of course a treat in itself when in full blast. Traces of Nilssen-Love's experience from groups like Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet, Ken Vandermark's Territory Band and Frode Gjerstad's Circulasione Totale Orchestra are of course evident. There is no doubt that Nilssen-Love has taken inspiration from his years in these bands but still with the aim to create a new group with a sound of it's own.
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Résumé Julie Kjær (DK): saxophone & flute
Julie Kjær's (b. 1978) edgy and thoughtful playing and "dark, otherworldly imagery" (Jazzwise) has become increasingly evident around Europe, inhabiting ground between composition and free improvisation. She has toured internationally and recorded with Django Bates and StoRMChaser. One of her main projects is Kjær3, a trio with bass player John Edwards and Steve Noble. She plays with the London Improvisers Orchestra and is a leader and sidewoman of several other English and Danish ensembles. Julie was recently chosen to be a Sound and Music "New Voice" Artist. www.juliekjaer.com
Résumé Thomas Johansson (NO): cornet & flugelhorn
Thomas Johansson (b. 1983) is a trumpeter from Skien, currently living in Oslo. He graduated from The University in Stavanger, and is currently attending the master program at The Norwegian Academy of Music. The past years he toured and played over one hundred concerts a year, with his own and other projects. Thomas runs the band Cortex which has released three highly acclaimed albums, and is also active in bands such as All Included, Friends&Neighbors, and Scheen Jazz Orchestra. www.thomasjohansson.no
Résumé Ketil Gutvik (NO): el-guitar
Résumé Tommi Keränen (FIN): electronics
Résumé Jon Rune Strøm (NO): double bass
Jon Rune Strøm (b.1985) is a bassist from Otterøya, who currently lives in Sweden. He graduated from the jazz department in Trondheim and has taken a strong position on the free jazz and improvised music scene with many bands such as SAKA, Friends&Neighbors, the Frode Gjerstad Trio and All Included. twitter.com/jonrunestrom
Andreas Wildhagen (b.1988) is a drummer and composer from Oslo. He has been active the past years with the bands such as KNYST!, Mopti and Dr. Kay & his Interstellar Tone Scientists. In addition to touring with his projects he recently received a master degree after graduating from The Norwegian Academy of Music with the pianist Kjetil Jerve. They are working on projects which we will see more of in the years to come. www.knysttrio.no
Résumé Mats Äleklint (SE): trombone
Mats Äleklint (b. 1979) lives in Stockholm and plays among others with Yun Kan 10, Je Suis!, All Included and Fire Orchestra. He has freelanced since 2000, toured the world and participates on around 30 recordings. He also runs his own quartet which just released their debut CD. www.matsaleklint.com
Résumé Christian Meaas Svendsen (NO): double bass
Christian Meaas Svendsen (b.1988) from Kongsberg, graduated from The Norwegian Academy of Music and is currently studying classical music. He made himself notable on the improvised music scene both as a leader and as a sideman for different projects. As a bassist he is curious, challenging and innovative, and works towards becoming a distinctive musician as well as a combiner of the classical, contemporary, free and rhythmic music tradition. www.christianmeaassvendsen.com
Résumé Klaus Ellerhusen Holm (NO): alto saxophone & clarinet
Klaus Ellerhusen Holm (b.1979) lives in Trondheim and graduated from the jazz department in the same town. He mostly works with free jazz and improvised music and the past years has been active in the bands such as Ballrogg, Muringa, Trondheim Jazz Orchestra and Honest John. He has toured several festivals and clubs in Europe, USA and Asia. He has also composed music for different chamber groups and worked with music for film and dance. www.klausholm.no
Résumé Kristoffer Alberts (NO): alto & tenor saxophone
Kristoffer Alberts (b. 1982) has emerged in the Norwegian scene of improvised music with a fresh approach to the saxophone. One hears traces of Albert Ayler, Ab Baars and the likes of Frank Lowe but Alberts has let his influences shape the music so you feel them rather than hearing them loud and clear. His contribution to the scene is also seen with his own label. Alberts is active in groups like Cortex, collaborations with Lasse Marhaug, Maja Ratkje and Steve Noble, whom all are featured on recordings released by his own label as well as Clean Feed. www.kristofferalberts.com
Résumé Kalle Moberg (NO): Accordion
Kalle Moberg (b. 1994) has excelled as one of Norway’s most promising classical musicians on his instrument, as a 1st prize winner as a soloist in the latest Norwegian Accordion Championship in 2016. He has his bachelor from the Norwegian Academy of Music, and he is studying his masters degree in Bern, Switzerland from the fall of 2017. His musical extent reaches from classical music, to contemporary written and improvised music, to Norwegian folk music, and to pop and rock. In his playing, he is often aspiring to portray human traits, and he is not afraid to emphasize on the vulnerable, fragile, crooked or wild aspects.
Per Åke Holmlander (b. 1957) The Tuba is not the most obvious instrument in jazz. But Per-Åke Holmlander is a master of this instrument and he is a part of Fredrik Ljungkvists Yun Kan combos, Mats Gustafssons Swedish Azz, and several other leading international improvising groups. He is also one of the few who plays Cimbasso, which is a contrabass valve trombone. This versatile musician is also frequently part of different theatre projects. www.carliot.org
Résumé Paal Nilssen-Love (NO): drums & bandleader
Paal Nilssen-Love (b.1974) has stated his position as one of the most profiled drummers in Europe today. He has made numberless performances at festivals and clubs all over the world and participated on more than 200 recordings. He runs his own annual festival – All Ears – for improvised music in Oslo and also takes part in booking the Blow Out festival. Paal also runs his own label PNL Records which will reach 26 releases by the end of 2014. Like Pat Metheny put it in 2002, after having played with Paal at Molde International Jazz Festival: "He is simply one of the best new musicians I've heard during the latest years!" And after having heard Paal in 9 different settings at the same Festival, Down Beat reporter Dan Quelette stated: "His week at Molde proved a revelation: Nilssen-Love is one of the most innovative, dynamic and versatile drummers in jazz!" www.paalnilssen-love.com
Celio De Carvalho (b. 1959) is a Brazilian percussionist who up until recently lived in Norway for over 30 years. He has been extremely active as a side man, solo percussionist and has performed and recorded with most of Norways top musicians. He is currently running a music school in Brasilia, focusing on Brazilian percussion. He has also worked with names such as Nana Vasconcelos and Hermeto Pascoal, amongst others. www.celiodecarvalho.com
Paulinho Bicolor (BR) b. 1983 is an unusual percussionist as his main and only instrument is the cuica. He has of course experience from most of the Brazilian percussion instruments but did the radical and quite untraditional choice of focusing on cuica, an instrument he also is writing a master on. He is very active at many samba sessions in Rio and has now broadened his musical experience to include improvised music. twitter.com/pbicolor
Current tour dates
2017 | 22 October – 12 November: Europe
2018 | 26 February – 11 March: Europe
2018 | 11 – 24 June: North America
2018 | 30 June – 26 August: Europe
2018 | 1 – 15 October: Europe
2018 | 13 – 20 November: Europe
2019 | 25 March – 14 April: Europe
2019 | 23 June – 27 August: Europe
2019 | 18 September – 13 October: Europe
2019 | 20 November – 8 December: Europe
Contact us if you want to offer a date for this tour, and we will advise you on availability.
Ana (PNL – PNL033, 2016)
Personnel: Thomas Johansson trumpet; Mats Äleklint trombone; Julie Kjær alto saxophone and flute; Klaus Holm alto and baritone saxophone; Per Åke Holmlander tuba; Børre Mølstad tuba; Ketil Gutvik electric guitar; Tommi Keränen electronics; Paulinho Bicolor cuica, triangle, tamborim; Celio de Carvalho congas, bongos, tamborim, pandeiro, berimbau, caxixi, alfaia; Jon Rune Strøm acoustic and electric bass; Christian Meaas Svendsen acoustic and electric bass; Andreas Wildhagen drums and percussion; Paal Nilssen-Love drums and percussion.
Please visit the "Download" section in the upper menue under the band photo for reading the full reviews.
Hooting avant-funk passages sound like Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time caught up in a Rio street carnival. There’s even some earthily trad-jazzy trumpet blues. The third section opens with rainforest animal whoopings and chitchat, passes through a strange free-trombone samba and out on a shuffle of flutes and percussion and a floating dreamscape of an ending. It’s uncompromising free-jazz, but the Large Unit’s 40-gig US and European tours last year show how far it travels beyond that loop. — John Fordham, The Guardian
As with the earlier Erta Ale, and remarkably so for the product of a recently blooded big band channeling Brazilian vibes, Ana has it’s impassioned moments but it’s a much less stoked, subtler and more complex album than you might expect. — Tim Owen, Dalston Sound
As with Brötzmann’s Tentet, there’s a shrewdly struck balance between collective hollering and delicate miniatures for soloists and subgroups, and clear throwbacks to John Coltrane’s larger-group explorations in the 1960s. But Nilssen-Love is a sophisticated thinker as well as a terrifying percussion juggernaut, and this music is distinctively his. — John Fordham, The Guardian
2015 (PNL – PNL030)
2015 is a beautiful limited-edition gem, not only because of the great music, but also thanks to the insightful photos of of bass player Christian Meaas Svendsen and Peter Gannushkin, taken on-and-off-stage and the amusing notes of all the Large Unit musicians and the interview with Nilssen-Love.
The first disc was recorded at the Casa del Popolo club in Montreal and features small units of the Large Unit, one duo and three trios, playing short free-improvised pieces. The Large Unit interplay often involves such small units playing off and against each other, and these impressive pieces highlight the strong individual languages and offer new ideas for future combinations within the Unit interplay.
The second disc capture the Large Unit at the height of their powers in the last performance of the North American tour at the Earshot Jazz festival in Seattle. It feature new arrangements of older pieces - “Fortar Hardar”, “Erta Ale II” and “Fendika” and two new pieces - “ANA”, the title piece of the forthcoming Large Unit release, and “Circle in the Round”. The Large Unit plays with endless fiery energy, even when it stripped down to small units, as if possessed by a higher force. Keränen, trumpeter Thomas Johansson, Äleklint and Holmlander shine on “Fortar Hardar” before the inevitable volcanic eruption of the whole Unit. “ANA” revolves around an infectious brass fanfares and a manic driving pulse that just keeps intensifying from the first second until the last one. “Circle in the Round” is the only loose form piece, developed patiently through a series of individual solos, including a most beautiful one of Kjær on the flute. “Erta Ale II” is re-arranged as a piece that highlight the massive front line of Äleklint, Johansson and sax players Klaus Elierhusen Holm and Kjær. The whole Unit now is in tight and fiery mode, ready for the last piece, the Ethiopian-tinged explosive-addictive pulse of “Fendika”.
The unassuming perspective of Svendsen photos, together with his intuitive sense of photo composition and the short notes of the musicians, shed light on the demanding life on the road. The complicated logistics puzzle of arranging such tours, having all the musicians packed in three dense vans, and the need to balance different needs and tastes, including between vegan and carnivores. But above all it reflects the fun that all had together between “driving, soundchecking, gigging, sleeping”, multiplied few times, as Äleklint summarizes it. But with few detours to the Niagara Falls, swimming in Lake Erie, singing karaoke at a Korean barbecue after a 6-hour performance, buying shoes and driving a Harley-Davidson. Others like Kjær and Holm comment about the different types of humor - Norwegian, Finnish and Swedish, Keränen advises where to avoid eating Polish food in Chicago, but all are very appreciative about this invigorating experience. “This is what we live for”, writes drummer Andreas Wildhagen. “Nothing can be more rewarding than creating energy and music in the moment, let the sounds flush and blow out like they should in the ‘now’”. Nilssen-Love, obviously the most experienced working musician in this band, performing about 200 to 250 days a year, notes that the Large Unit “takes having fun serious”. He suggests insightful perspective about the importance of such tours: “a band needs experience from the road in order to develop. The music changes and people interact in completely different way if you’re out for more than a week or so”. He concludes by saying that “this feels like a beginning of it”. — Eyal Hareuveni, Free Jazz Collective
Erta Ale (PNL – LP, CD, Cassette, 2014)
Please visit the "Download" section in the upper menue under the band photo for reading full reviews of this release.
The Large Unit successfully combines the energy of youth and the casual familiarity of the neighborhood, both welded together by the focus of Nilssen-Love’s musical personality. … The multi-disc set may echo the band’s fascination with scale, but this is large music, a window on a scene that seethes with creative energy and an unbridled intensity. — Point of Departure
Nilssen-Love has put together his biggest and most ambitious ensemble to date and brought to it a set of compositions that serve an ambitious mission. … There’s plenty of high-energy action across Erta Ale’s 16 tracks, which include multiple performances of pieces that differ drastically from each other; the compositions invite players to imagine the music anew each time rather than work out detailed variations upon a theme. … Nilssen-Love doesn’t exactly draw attention to himself as a drummer, although his management of energy flow and dynamics is key to the music’s emotional ebb and flow. But his place in these performances corresponds to his place in improvised music today. He’s not only making it happen; he is keeping it going by creating a continuum in which the clashing and mixing of personalities, genres, sounds and scenes is the stuff of creation, and he is an instigator and guide. It’s not the size of this set that proves Nilssen-Love’s significance; it’s the space he gives to the right people, and what they do with it. — Bill Meyer, Dusted Magazine
...While it’s a frequently raucous and quite noisy unit, with a hard-charging energy reminiscent of Charles Mingus crossed with the Melvins, there are numerous passages where individual instrumentalists take lengthy and at times quite meditative and exploratory solo turns. And given the fact that most of the players are not nearly as well-known internationally as Nilssen-Love, he’s to be commended for providing them with such a superb platform. — Burning Ambulance
There is a trust and a democratic nature that allows it to live and breathe a way that many other bands are not able to do. That democratic nature allow the music to ebb and flow, use dynamics and seemingly at times thermodynamics especially in the live settings, where their relation to energy and work is astounding and heat and temperature developed by the band particularly by the pushing and pulling by Nilssen-Love who is so supremely confident and completely in control of the music is very impressive. To begin the recorded history of a band with a three disc boxed set is an audacious move, but it pays off quite well. This is a very exciting band who makes excellent music. — Tim Niland, Music and More
First Blow (PNL – PNL021, 2013)
I love this album. It’s only two long songs (one 12 minutes and the other almost 9) but any time you listen to a record and it makes you smile, feel intrigued and challenges you is a good thing in my book.
Song 1 starts with a couple of blast from the Large Unit then enters immediately into squeals and digital disturbance for a minute or two before the Large Unit enters back in for real. It’s very playful, almost sounds entirely improvised were it not for the tightness of the changes by the group together, and has a lot of dynamics. It sure ain’t boring, that’s for certain.
Song 2 has more digital interference and tasteful sax squeals and improv but is no less fun than track 1. It’s less bombastic than the first song and a lot more out there but very cool on its own. It’s also less of a combined unit song but that didn’t inhibit my enjoyment of it one bit. Norwegian artists get tagged with the “electronic free jazz” moniker often but when it’s used this well I don’t think of it as such. I just hear it as a natural part of the composition and great music.
Mr. Love is a superb band leader and improviser and it’s hard to think of a drummer right now I’d rather listen to in the free jazz world. He’s powerful, commanding but never overwhelming or ostentatious. That he could take a complete seat back on the second track and let it happen outside the drums is a testament to his taste and restraint. I originally wasn’t going to review it because I didn’t want to be tagged “the Norwegian guy” but I’m glad I did. It’s enriched my musical palate and expanded my mind. I also didn’t want to give it such a high rating since the last few reviews I’ve done were so high but this album demands it. Highly recommended. — Ed Pettersen, Free Jazz Collective
Large Unit is one of the most stellar examples of a free-improvised big band project. — Downbeat
The Large Unit successfully combines the energy of youth and the casual familiarity of the neighborhood, both welded together by the focus of Nilssen-Love’s musical personality. This is large music, a window on a scene that seethes with creative energy and an unbridled intensity. — Stuart Broomer, Point of Departure
Large Unit are firmly positioned at the cutting edges of contemporary band activity, and proved to be a formidable live experience, worth catching at any opportunity. — London Jazz News
The variety of moods, tempos, structures and ideas makes for a fascinating listening experience for anyone willing to go below the surface. — Alain Drouot, Downbeat
You know you're dealing with a huge sound when Paal Nilssen-Love isn´t even the loudest thing in the room. This box set is a mammoth release in everyway. — Daniel Spicer, Jazzwise
Now this is one hell of a monolithic jazz colossus. Erta Ale is stunning and big band jazz just took another evolutionary step. — Euan Andrews, Rock A Rolla
Too many jazz musicians live in the past without moving forward. Large Unit proves that the opposite is possible. — Ronny Værnes, Freq.org.uk
Tremendous noisy fun… — Stewart Smith, The List 4 Stars
Mobocracies of molten chaos blossom into welters of hellish cat-calls as jive rifts sling salvos of supremely low-slung swing. — Spencer Grady, Jazzwise
Nilssen-Love takes his cohorts on an energized, often violently expressive foray into gale-force freedom, boisterous inter-band duels and muscular swinging that amply rewards as many return visits as time allows. — Andrew Carden, Mojo
A great blend of free jazz, improvisation, harmolodious transfers of energy in shamanistic way. Straying away from typical big band combos Large Unit, LITERALLY brings back the energy of free jazz music to the core and adds up with great live studio production and foremostly feels this way as the drumming base here is superb. The flux of energy here is intense but it is not lost amidst frenzy - it showcases discipline and hard spine of the leader. — Hubert Heathertoes, Felthat
It seems like 2015 was the year Large Unit really came into full force. 45 concerts for a 12-piece band in a six-month span, that’s a lot even for a regular size band. What made you go for three full tours in such a short period of time?
Since the very first meeting with the guys and the very first concert in Molde, July 2013, I wanted to get this band on the road! We first did a short tour of Norway in spring 2014 and also recorded what became the album “Erta Ale”. We were also lucky to do a handful of concerts at international festivals abroad where press gave us good reviews. I was planning to do at least two solid tours of Europe in 2015 but when I realized the rumor was out and there was interest in Canada, I also thought we should do a proper tour of North America in the same go.
That’s kind of crazy.
Yes, I can see the insanity of doing all of this within one year, but it’s a working band and not a project. A band needs experience from the road in order to develop. The music changes and people interact in a completely different way if you’re out for more then a week or so. I’m ambitious and was determined we could pull it off – and we did. It also forced me to write more material for the group.
In Large Unit you are band leader, composer, booking agent, producer and you play the drums, and you did these three tours packed in between a tight schedule of tours with other bands plus organising two festivals. Surely putting together the Large Unit tours must have been a monumental task. How did you manage?
It’s a lot of work, but I like working a lot and it keeps me going. I’m a complete control freak and have a hard time trusting anyone to do what I do with the same dedication. I have all the contacts for booking gigs and for these tours I was out early fishing for them. Fortunately most presenters were interested in having us. The most difficult thing was making a tour that made sense travel-wise. That was a logistical puzzle.
What are the financial challenges connected to bringing a band like this on the road?
Winning the lottery! Thing is that we’re still extremely fortunate to have funding for music and arts in Norway. Without the financial support from Ministry of Culture, Music Norway, Jazzforum and Fond For Lyd og Bilde – who all supported the European and North America tour – it would simply be impossible to pull it off. There was also the Bielecki Foundation in the US and even some private funding from fans in Milwaukee. The fees from the presenters were quite decent and I could pay the musicians an okay fee. You got to think in a different way and lower the expectations of income with 12 musicians on the road. What cost the most was of course the overseas travel, but we also had expenses for visas, rental cars and hotels in the US.
What practical challenges does travelling with such a big band bring?
Thankfully I’ve got some experience touring with large ensembles, so I kind of knew what obstacles could occur. I had everything planned way in advance; from where to have breakfast, dinner, bars and even record shops. I had it all mapped out. But of course, as soon as you get on the road and see that some people have their different habits and needs. The key to surviving on the road is having a good sense of humor, patience and respecting each other’s pace. I’m glad people were patient when we were given four beds in four different rooms at a hostel with strangers, or when I by mistake had cancelled some of the rooms elsewhere, or when one of the guys went to bed without leaving the car keys with some of us who still had bags in the car… those kind of things demand quite some patience and I believe this band has that. Thank God!
Were people in the band given different responsibility outside of music? Did everybody help out?
All of the members did a tremendous job helping each other with absolutely everything. We had a ton of merchandise with us, and a few guys set up the merch table every night and dealt with sales and talking with the audience. It helped a lot. I had to tell everyone else a few times to help out, but in general it all went smooth.
Did you sense that everybody felt that this was something special?
Yes, I would say so. Especially the guys hanging out after the gigs were all extremely generous and open about how much they appreciated the time we were having together. For me this was a very special trip. I’ve done loads of tours in North America the last 10-15 years. Some of the guys had only been to New York, Chicago and maybe a few trips between Philly, DC and New York. So I had the pleasure to show them what’s in between all the bigger cities, like the college towns, Appalachia region, white poverty, red neck country, Motor City, Waffle House, Hop Leaf in Chicago, record stores in Milwaukee and so on. And we all met presenters that were as dedicated as us. It was special for everyone involved.
Was it all work and no fun?
It was a lot of work before, during the tour and even after doing accounts etc. I was pretty much prepared and on top of things. It was more fun than most tours I’ve done before. I enjoy putting together tours and I knew it was going to be a blast. This band takes having fun serious – we did a lot more than just travel and play. I mean, which other band goes swimming in Lake Eerie? All dancing back stage after the last gig? Singing karaoke at a Korean barbecue after doing a 6 hr concert? I loved it all the way!
There were some changes in the line-up of band since last year. How did you pick the new musicians?
Some quit because of the music, some because of family and I respect both. It was easy to ask Tommi Keränen to do electronics, and he proved to be very easy to work with. He read the scores well and was extremely humble to the music. His contributions were outstanding, especially when we – for practical reasons – had to put him in front of the band. After going through the list of saxophone players, Klaus and I decided on Julie Kjær, and I realised at the first gig that she was the right choice. Her playing is great! She really shines on stage. And I must admit that having a woman in the band is nice. It’s like the birthday parties when you where a kid, of course you didn’t only want guys.
Do you consider Large Unit a project or a band?
It’s a band. I realised that on the very first gig in 2013.
Is having a constant line-up a goal, or do you accept that the line-up might be more fluid?
So far there’s been three replacements, and you never know if people’s family situations or if their musical interest change. I don’t mind the band changing and evolving, but I would love to keep the present group going for a while. We’ll see. You never know. I can imagine that I’ll be bringing in more people and expanding the group. In August we played at Oslo Jazz Festival and we had two Brazilian percussionists join us for a concert and recording. That was amazing!
Did you play the same set-list every night, or did you shuffle it around?
That’s one thing I learnt on the very first tour, after we’d done three gigs and thought we had a good set list, playing the same order of songs those first three gigs I noticed that people were anticipating the next tune or solo, so I began changing order of soloists and the order of songs. We’ve now gotten to the point where I’ll re-arrange absolutely everything for every gig. It keeps people alert and the music fresh. With 14 gigs in 16 days there’s no way I want to play the same shit every night.
You already have more pieces of music than you’re able to fit into one evening, why did you introduce new material on the tours instead of just playing the “Erta Ale” tunes?
There are several reasons bringing in new material to the band. When the band started I had written about eight compositions and we did one tour of Norway, recorded “Erta Ale” and most of the tunes were with us on festival concerts in the same period. It worked, but the band had changed a little, people wanted more material, I heard new things in the group that I wanted to bring out. I also find it inspiring writing for the group. We’re still tossing the old material around, but the new tunes are slightly different and demands different thinking. Hopefully it also reflects some of the directions the band could go in the future.
Would you consider having members of the band, or even people from the outside writing pieces?
Good question. I don’t think so. It’s already enough responsibility for me to write the music, deciding what pieces to play and how to play them. If I were going to decide on which of the member’s pieces to play, that would be wrong for me. It’s a very democratic group, but in a way it’s easier if I deal with the music.
You also had nights where people played in smaller constellations? Why did you do that? How did it affect the music of the main band?
I’ve arranged and composed the tunes so that all members are put into smaller units within the group, playing with, off and against each other. There are several combinations of the group that I find interesting and all members are good improvisers, and I believe that setting up independent trios or duos will push all members into new territories. It also gives me new ideas for composing new material. Also, the audience get to hear each member in a slightly different context.
How do you feel the band developed over these tours?
The band has grown a lot since the beginning. People are more confident in each other and themselves and they’re taking more chances than before. Some guys in the band have really blossomed and shown some incredible playing which I had’t heard before. So great! The band is now extremely tight and powerful.
You normally play 250 gigs a year, what makes Large Unit special out of all your projects?
I believe that the social aspect is important if you’re going to take a band on the road. I see myself 10-20 years ago in some of the guys, and I get inspiration from their approach to the music and life on the road. We’re 12 musicians and it’s a gallery of personalities. Within the group there’s some of the most humble and patient musicians I’ve ever worked with, and there is an extreme dedication to the music and the band, which makes it special to me.
What is the reason for documenting the 2015 tour with this book?
I think the audience should be let in on some of the life on the road. They read Twitter and Facebook messages, of course see us play but I think it’s nice to make a more substantial documentation rather than just a bunch of random photos that disappear into the digital void. I realised that Christian takes really good photos. He’s got an eye for composition and manages to capture some special moments. All of the people in the band were taking photos but they were more holiday style and quite trashy (including mine), Christian’s stood out.
And what about the two CDs?
Almost all the shows were recorded and instead of cramming all of them into a box set I thought we’d make something more special. The first CD is the second night in Montreal when we broke the group into smaller units. It’s a side of the band that hasn’t been documented before. The second CD is the very last gig of the tour, which was in Seattle. The band is in full fire and there’s some rearrangements of the older pieces. It’s not a pristine hi-fi recording, but it captures the intense energy of the band and shows how much the music had evolved by that point.
Where do you see Large Unit going in the future? Does a big ensemble have longevity, or is this a mountain you have to climb and then scale down?
Large Unit will go on. As long as the members are willing to walk with me, then I’ll keep going. Of course I won’t be surprised if someone has to quit for family reasons, or makes other priorities. It’s fine if the band evolves and changes from time to time. But, it’s also a question of money. We’ve managed to do quite a lot in a very short amount of time and that’s thanks to the support money we have in Norway. Hopefully we’ll be fortunate and receive some more. But yeah, this feels like the beginning of it.
Tags: Paal Nilssen-Love, Large Unit, Julie Kjær, Ketil Gutvik, Per Åke Holmlander, Andreas Wildhagen, Christian Meaas Svendsen, Mats Äleklint, Thomas Johansson, Tommi Keranen, Jon Rune Strøm, Klaus Ellerhusen Holm, Kristoffer Alberts, Paulinho Bicolor, Celio de Carvalho, First Blow, Erta Ale, Ana, PNL Records
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