Norwegian Avant Garde in Ann Arbor


The acclaimed Norwegian altoist Frode Gjerstad visited Ann Arbor's Kerrytown Concert House on February 21. He recently was chosen as the Norwegian jazz musician of the year and the prize was a tour with a hand-picked rhythm section. Wisely, he chose bassist William Parker from New York and drummer Hamid Drake from Chicago, two outstanding members of the Avant Garde. I really enjoyed hearing the trio and so did everyone I talked to. It was also gratifying to see standing room only at the Concert House.

Their playing most resembled the Ornette Coleman trio of the 1960s. I remember that trio for its buildup of great rhythmic tension that at the time was new and refreshing. This similarity was most striking on the opening number. Parker developed a repeated rhythmic pattern around and against which Gjerstad and Drake worked. Drake varied his drum beats a lot and built up to heavy back-beats at the end of the piece. Gjerstad played with an emotional intensity that was close to that of Coleman and he also had a number of interesting melodic ideas. But the real achievement was the deep, almost hypnotic, groove reached for much of the 45-minute piece.

The second set started out in a more abstract mode and at a slower pace. But it was not long before the group worked up another set of rhythmic tensions, which provided a fitting context for Gjerstad's alto cries. It was a great night for free-wheeling swing, even though some of the performers, and members of the audience, might be reluctant to use the term swing to describe their music. I was glad to find out that the group recorded in Chicago, which would give everyone a chance to hear this great trio.