Gard Nilssen Acoustic Unity: Elastic Wave (ECM 2724)

Gard Nilssen Acoustic Unity
Elastic Wave

André Roligheten tenor, soprano and bass saxophones, clarinet
Petter Eldh double bass
Gard Nilssen drums
Recorded June 2021
Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines
Engineer: Gérard de Haro
Mastering: Nicolas Baillard
Cover: Fotini Potamia
Produced by Steve Lake
Release date: July 15, 2022

André Roligheten is one of the most exciting young saxophonists in the Norwegian jazz scene. I had the pleasure of seeing him in various guises under the auspices of the 2018 Nutshell jazz festival (see my writeup and photos here), and I always hoped to see his name on an ECM roster one day. I am happy to say that day has come, and I can hardly imagine finer company than Swedish bassist Petter Eldh (who made his first label appearance as part of Django Bates’ Belovèd on The Study Of Touch) and Norwegian drummer Gard Nilssen, whose highly sought-after name emblazons Elastic Wave as bandleader. Nilssen has played with almost anyone of note in the European circuit you can think of, from veterans like Audun Kleive (under whom he studied) and Arild Andersen to fresher talents like Maciej Obara (see Unloved and Three Crowns) and Roligheten himself. His paths have also intersected with major figures from across the pond, including Bill Frisell and Pat Metheny.

With such a title and album cover to go with it, we might expect a frenzy of activity. Instead, we are introduced to Acoustic Unity’s fluid identity via “Altaret,” one of two more relaxed tunes from Eldh’s pen. In silver-tinted monochrome, it lays an ante of trust on the proverbial card table. Later in the set, the bassist’s “Dreignau” allows the chips to fall where they may, tapping into an ethos that animates everything the band touches. “Influx Delight” breaks form with a tenor-led romp of post-bop energy that sparks the senses and, along with “Acoustic Dance Music” (both were co-written by Nilssen and Roligheten), puts its unique brand of introspective extroversion on full display. On the flip side, we find extroverted introspection in Roligheten’s “Cercle 85” and “Til Liv.” Whereas the first is a clarinet-led stroll through streets at night, the second is an ode to the composer’s daughter, the abstractions of which capture that delightful complexity daughters so uniquely hold. Nilssen’s “Spending Time With Ludvig” counters with a tribute to the drummer’s son, while “Boogie” flows with Eldh in intuitive confluence. Its free and easy style never forces its hand, puffing out old clouds into a new sky.

Nilssen cites many influences, from Jack DeJohnette to Jon Christensen (one of whose cymbals, in fact, takes pride of place in this session’s kit), among others. The tune “Lokket til Jon, og skjerfet til Paul,” notes this album’s press release, “also alludes to a scarf once left at the La Buissonne studio by Paul Motian, used here to take the edge off the bass drum’s ringing overtones.” Brushed drums and softly splashing cymbals show an artist at the kit, painting in everything from watercolor and acrylics to thickly applied oils. Roligheten’s sensitivities retake the helm, revealing the same depth of character I experienced in live settings. The saxophonist further contributes “The Other Village,” in which he plays tenor and soprano simultaneously, surprising us with bagpipe sonorities before riding Nilssen’s rolling thunder into oblivion. The latter’s “The Room Next To Her” closes the set with the guttural wonders of Roligheten on bass saxophone. Such feet-to-flame playing enacts a slow-motion punch to the gut that leaves us stronger for it. I can’t wait for Round 2.