Paal Nilssen-Love

I've been very impressed by one of his concert in Rheims with Hakon Kornstad. A few years later, he has been incredible again with Atomic. It's time to ask him a few questions.

Your parents had a club. What are your first memories ?

First memories, or rather, the strongest, are hearing and meeting Tony Oxley, playing his drums when I was eight years old. Meeting Art Blakey several times. I remember enjoying both those drummers a lot.

You have followed the jazz studies at the University of Trondheim: in which way do you think that the teaching of jazz is different in the Nordic countries ?

I´m not sure if it´s so different here from the schools in Europe but I know for sure that the school in Trondheim is different then f.ex. Leeds in Boston. Also, things are in a smaller scale in Trondheim. There´s only 10 or more pr class and in total I think around 40 or 50 students. It´s a very nice situation where you´re amongst young musicians who are eager to play and practice all the time. Important factor is that you can actually do gigs in town whilst you´re there studying. It´s more of an institution where musicians get together for two or three really intense years of their lives. Some move on to do other things, maybe not related to music, whilst others are out on the road before they´ve finished half the years they where supposed to.

It's when you arrived in Oslo that the meetings and collaborations have multiplied...

That´s true but there was already groups being established in Trondheim, collaborations that still exist and I still play with people from my home town Stavanger, such as saxophonist Frode Gjerstad. Also, around 2000, when I met Ken Vandermar, Mats Gustafsson and Raoul Björkenheim, things shot off. Not least when I start working on a more regular basis with Peter Brötzmann (The Chicago Tentet, trio with Michiyo Yagi, new quartet with Massimo Pupillo and Kondo and more).

Do you feel that you have a legacy with a drummer ? A musician ? Ed Blackwell?

I´ve always enjoyed Blackwell´s playing. His New Orleans feel, the way he uses the tom toms, mallets, polyrhythms and melody. It´s so stripped down some times and so f--- intense, swinging! I also feel there´s a lot of his playing in John Stevens. Not to forget John Stevens´ approach to the Spontaneous Music Ensemble. Cecil Taylor has always moved me.

Peter Broetzmann ?

First meeting was with a quartet we did with Frode Gjerstad, Tonny Kluften, Peter and I. Then we did some more gigs as a quartet with a different bassplayer. It was really intense and I felt that I could relate to his way of playing immediately. Of course he´s got some stamina that young guys can´t stand up to, but it was the flow in his playing that caught me, also that here was a guy, a musician with so much history and experience in his playing. As a person he´s one of the warmest and kindest I know. We have quite a few things going that I already mentioned, also a duo tour I´m working on as well as a CD coming out soon.

Scorch Trio ?

That´s a trio that has´nt had too many gigs but now things are loosening. That was also a trio that started around the same time as the bands with Ken and Mats so it means a whole lot to me and I´m really happy it´s still working. I think we´re getting closer and closer to some kind of nucleus. It takes time with some groups and in a way the albums we´ve done has defined where we move on and from.

The solo work is an important part of your approach as a musician...

Yes, I find it important to do some solo work every now and then, I love playing with others and I respect musicians who believe music, interaction and improvisation happens between musicians. But, I find it almost intriguing, to work by yourself, digging into who you are on stage, off stage and the fact that you´ve only got yourself to relate to, yourself to interact with and to kick the music further. I like the idea of solowork for laptop artists, where they can set up a soundscape, sit back and analyse it and then add or subtract what they think is needed, if you move that situation over to an instrument that demands a you to move your limbs, using your breat, and still be able to get something going, analyse whilst playing, move the music on and be able to "loose" yourself as you would in a group, then there´s some different and interesting things going on.

Among the drummers marking the improvised scene, what do you think of Jim Black?

I must admit that I have´nt heard him properly live yet, I´ve heard him on record but I really want to experience his playing live. We tend to cross paths on tour and see each other quite often and always enjoy the five minute talk.

I know he´s been a big influence on other drummers, that´s great but then it would be nice if you did´nt hear bad copies of him but rather someone who would recreate what he´s recreated, I think. If you listen to his playing there´s a lot of Joey Baron, Gerry Hemingway, Han Bennink and more and it would be great if other drummers would take the time to listen to these as much as Jim probably has.

You play in a lot of different groups. And you say that moving from one project to another, it is not complete and begin an experiment but to pursue a single eternal piece : can you tell us more about that ?

I´m not sure if I get this question correct. I do play in tons of groups and I always see it as the most natural thing to do. I could strip it down to three bands but I think I´d be starting another 10 right away. There´s so many great musicians I would like to play with and there´s mutual feelings on getting new collaborations together but time is always and issue and the disadvantage is that you don´t get to really develop a group sound. At the same time, if the musicians are strong personalities and the group is well "planned", the groups "sound" will be defined very fast and you go n from there.

It´s interesting if you look at the older generation of Peter Brötzmann, Evan Parker etc. They where cutting down and excluding, now musicians are including all kinds of elements and I think it´s basically a part of the time we live in. The family of musicians is just getting bigger and bigger, but also tighter and tighter.

Interview by Jean Delestrade