Photo by Håvard Gjelseth

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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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.

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.

Guitarist Ketil Gutvik (b. 1972) has rocked the jazz and improvised music scene in Oslo since the mid-nineties. The list of collaborations and constellations with both Norwegian and international improvisers is long and powered by a pushing urge which has resulted in the longstanding concert series Fritt Fall and Gutvik Ukentlig. Some of Gutvik’s most significant projects are the duo with the British improviser John Russel, trio with Lasse Marhaug and Børre Mølstad and the trio No, Gutvik.
Tommi Keränen (b. 1974) is a noise maker from Helsinki. Active since the late 1990s, he performs and records as a solo artist, and is a member of Testicle Hazard, Köttskogen, Gentle Evil and The Truckfuckers. He primary uses primitive electronics and non-standard digital synthesis the resulting music is rugged slabs of vivid swirling noise. His discography consists of over two dozen entries ranging from cryptic tapes to critically acclaimed releases like the Bats in the Attic CD (among The Wire's Rewind picks in 2010). He has collaborated many artists including Florian Hecker, The Incapacitants, Lasse Marhaug and Phill Niblock.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!"

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.

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.

Current tour dates

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.

Cover by Lasse Marhaug

Large Unit
Fluku ( PNL ‎– PNL038, 2017 )

The variety of ideas on Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love’s first two Large Unit albums – from ferocious collective and intimately conversational exchanges to world-improv collaborations with Brazilian players – showed how much of a work in progress he means it to be. Fluku is more conventionally structured and features a tighter 12-piece core of the band, but the incandescence is undimmed. 

The 27-minute opener reveals an enthusiasm for repetitively riff-rooted, improv-triggering harmonies, as it alternates between terse hooks, squelching electronics, wriggling low-brass and sax conversations, and a sudden unison swagger like an old Art Ensemble of Chicago anthem. Springsummer is contrastingly almost thematically mellow, and borders on lyrical in its clarinet variations. Playgo’s overlapping multi-horns riff becomes a reshuffle of constant tempo changes. Happy Slappy joins clanking abstract sounds, battering drumwork, and blustery high-altitude trumpet lines stalked by a honking baritone sax. The Large Unit is best heard live, but for habitués of musical outlands such as these, Fluku cans its remarkable heat very well. — John Fordham, The Guardian

A six-member wind section, composed by Julie Kjær on alto saxophone and flute, Klaus Ellerhusen Holm on clarinet, alto saxophone and baritone, Kristoffer Berre Albert on alto and tenor, Thomas Johansson on trumpet, Mats Äleklint on trombone and Per Åke Holmlander on tuba , to guarantee a devastating firepower. Then Ketil Gutvik on electric guitar, Tommi Keränen on electronics, Jon Rune Strøm and Christian Meaas Svendsen both electric bass and bass, Andreas Wildhagen and Paal Nilssen-Love on percussion and drums, with the latter also as composer and bandleader. This is the Large Unit of the Norwegian monstre drummer we have already admired in the Fire! or in the Arashi and that with this big band, arrived with Fluku on the third album, does not seem to travel in territories so distant from those explored by the Orchestra of Mats Gustafsson.

The record, recorded live - and it could not be otherwise - in one day only in Oslo, opens with the 26 extraordinary minutes of the title track, a sabbath of dishes on which entwined horns in unison that immediately disappear, fantastic interference eloquent memories of the work of Otomo Yoshihide and a stray and very personal guitar, then the phrase of the wind section returns, while the chaos happily mounts more and more, almost an updated version of the Art Ensemble's sarabande or the explosive folly of Alan Silva And His Celestrial Communion Orchestra. We had already found a similar atmosphere in the beautiful Crimetime Orchestra album (Life Is A Beatiful Monster 2005), where Nilssen Love sat on the drums. Reached the climax, the wind remain alone to chase after somersaults and rebuke, with the baritone and the tuba in evidence, as if we were in the presence of an expanded and schizophrenic version of the Rova Saxophone Quartet, while in the rear electronics puts tares. And it's only been five minutes. The hubbub continues with a perfect management of dynamics, spaces (the rhythm section has not yet practically pronounced verb), and timbres, until finally arrives an oncological theme raised to the sky by the brass and part of an odd groove dragging, as they could conceive it and play it a less controlled and wilder Steve Reid or Steve Coleman. A new Thème De Yo Yo (Art Ensemble, year of grace 1970) without the voice of Fontella Bass, but with the electronics of Keränen to rummage in every corner, and all the wind to push like damned without ever being less than necessary. Pure show, and we are just a little over half the piece. Then, at the ford, one of the batteries, first furious and then thin and at the edge of silence, leads us to the other side, where a long note of the reeds opens new worlds, Phil Cohran, the acoustic drone, Africa, some classical, the oriental silences that we learned to explore in jazz thanks to the ACM of Chicago, then it is the guitar to take the scene, among daring free rock escapes and the legacy of John Mc Laughlin and Sonny Sharrock. It closes on the edge of nothingness, not too far from certain things of the Nuova Consonanza Improvisation Group. A monolith to listen and listen again, then again and again. After so much of God, it is possible not to accuse dips of tension? When the musicians in dance are of this caliber, absolutely yes. After the multifaceted fury of the beginning, "Springsummer" is a sort of ballad with the clarinet to bring the singing and the contrabass backstage to keep the whole cabin standing, and the wind section that enters the scene only towards the end, with airy phrases and instant classic. "Playgo" instead attacks like a Sun Ra or a vintage Braxton: there is no pedestrian imitation in these tracks, but sincere desire to continue the interstellar journeys of the masters, with full awareness of the roots and security in space even in sound elsewhere sometimes even unpublished and never free.

Sixteen minutes on levels of absolute excellence, the references that could be cited are really a thousand, but what is worth emphasizing strongly is the vivid inspiration of every single passage of this record, orchestrated in an exemplary, melodic without ever being predictable or superfluous, supported by a full rock slap but never rhetorical or chaotic to be so (how certain musicians should learn noise from their fellow jazzmen!). The short ten minutes of "Happy Slappy", with an attack that makes you think of The Ex (there is a thin freepunk vein that acts as a red thread, in this album, an anarchic approach and a marching band gone crazy). with Brass Unbound and that changes form in a basilisk with Afro-Brazilian body (the horns dressed up for the party) and Japanese head (the white and ruthless noise to strangle the whole), and a distressed in opposition that makes me suppose that the reference in the title to "Slap Happy" is absolutely intentional.

We used to consider Nilssen Love as a battery fury, extraordinary in adding confusion to confusion, furor to rage in a poetic and ferocious way, but sometimes not always very calibrated, especially in live, in the use of dynamics. This record instead delivers to the archives a complete drummer, an absolutely mature composer, versatile, courageous, free and open to a thousand influences, which are reworked with personal style and with the contribution of a large group of musicians in a state of grace. We can not wait to intercept the Large Unit spacecraft live, if it passes on orbits not too far from ours. A record to be had and slammed in the face to the highest volume to those who say that free jazz is all the same. — Nazim Comunale, The New Noise

Fluku” is the newest avant-garde jazz album released by “PNL Records” only a few days ago – on October 13. The album was recorded by famous improvisers ensemble “Large Unit” which is formed of many original and innovative jazz masters – Julie Kjær (alto saxophone, flute), Klaus Ellerhusen Holm (Bb clarinet, alto and baritone saxophone), Kristoffer Berre Alberts – (alto and tenor saxophone), Thomas Johansson  (trumpet), Mats Äleklint  (trombone), Per Åke Holmlander (tuba), Ketil Gutvik (electric guitar), Tommi Keränen (electronics), Jon Rune Strøm (electric and double bass), Christian Meaas Svendsen (electric and double bass), Andreas Wildhagen (drums and percussion), Paal Nilssen-Love (drums and percussion) and Christian Brynildsen Obermayer (live sound). “Large Unit” ensemble music is dynamic, adventurous, bright, colorful and innovative. Many different music styles and genres are masterfully fused together in their compositions. The part of the most famous talented jazz masters are the members of this ensemble. Their inventive and modern experiments, unusual and stunning musical decisions, free and expressive improvising had made this ensemble one of the most famous and interesting avant-garde jazz ensemble on avant-garde jazz scene.  The music of this album has extraordinary and original sound. Wide range of various musical expressions, acoustic and electronic instruments, other music elements and playing techniques are the main elements of these compositions. The musical pattern of all compositions is made of various music styles and genres synthesis – avant-garde jazz, bebop, post-bop, some of traditional jazz elements, afro-american music intonations, various rock and experimental music styles and many other elements are essentially combined together in one composition. Expressive and aggressive, very sharp or silent and soft – acoustic instruments solos are very dynamic and effective pieces of this album. These solos are mixed with electronics, live sounds and electro-acoustic instruments. The combination between these absolutely different elements make original and extraordinary sound. Sharp and dissonance chords, long and separate sounds, dynamic and variable rhythmic, expressive and interesting solos, repetitive melodic and rhythmic elements, high variety of percussion instruments are the main and most important elements which form the musical pattern. The musicians also like to experiment – innovative and interesting musical experiments give colorful and versatile sound to the album. Extended playing techniques, traditional and innovative ways of playing extract and produce wide range of unusual sounds and timbres. The musicians are creating interesting and dynamic sound which is based on contrasts and concepts – joyful, playful and emotional episodes are connected with sharp, aggressive, loud and powerful collective improvisations which are the most effective episodes of the album. There also are some calm and subtle episodes with soft and slow solos and lyrical mood. All these episodes gently fit rogether with collective improvisations which are the most effective and important places of the album. The musicians demonstrate their own and unique playing style, free and adventurous improvising, expressive and vital solos and create dynamic sound. Wide range of playing techniques, musial expresions, characters and moods, masterful and outstanding improvising of talented and experienced jazz masters create original, dynamic and interesting sound of this album compositions. — AvantScena

Noen har hevdet at den norske trommeslageren Paal Nilssen-Love lager altfor mange plater. Og det må de gjerne få lov til å mene. Men det vil ikke si at dette er den hele og fulle sannhet. For selv om en musiker lager en rekke plater, så er han eller hun hele tiden på veien med forskjellige prosjekter, og en del av disse er såpass spennende, at det nesten ville vært dårlig gjort overfor oss som ikke kan sette av tid og penger og følge den energiske trommeslageren rundt om i verden, også får mulighet til å høre ham og noen av hans prosjekter. Når var for eksempel Paal Nilssen-Love sist i København med et av sine prosjekter? Det begynner faktisk å bli en god stund siden!

Og med sitt Large Unit «storband», har han siden 2014 kommet med noen strålende plater, som startet med «Erta Ale», fortsatte med «2015» før vi fikk «Ana» i 2016 og nå den nye «Fluku». Innimellom har det også kommet et par EPer, pluss samlingen «Selected Tracks 2013-2017».

Jeg har tidligere sammenlignet Large Unit med kollegaen Mats Gustafssons Fire! Orchestra!, men de senere årene, og særlig på den forrige innspillingen «Ana», syntes jeg Nilssen-Love gikk sin egen vei. Men hele veien er det energien som står i førersetet for begge disse banda. Hos Nilssen-Love vises det i første rekke av de to trommeslagerne, han selv og kollegaen Andreas Wildhagen. Men også med det solide laget av norske, svenske, danske og finske medspillere, som alle er med på å gjøre Large Unit til en stor fest.

Vi får fire strekk på den nye innspillingen, alle «skrevet» av Paal Nilssen-Love. Men det er nok ikke altfor mye av den «rene» musikken som er skrevet ned her. Temaene, kanskje, og hvem som skal gjøre hva, når. Og med et slikt lag av musikere, så fungerer det mer enn godt nok.

Det starter med tittelsporet «Fluku», hvor optimismen råder i starten, før gitaren til Ketil Gutvik, overtar i en heftig, men litt innadvendt sekvens, før «helvete» bryter løs. Og derfra og ut er dette et kroneksempel på hvordan et større band kan kommunisere, kun styrt av en «duracell-kanin» bak trommene som har den komplette kontrollen hele veien.

Derfra går man over i «Springsummer», som åpner med de to bassistene Jon Rune Strøm og Christian Meaas Svendsen, en med bue, den andre med streit komp. Julie Kjærs fløyte kommer inn i en litt «sær» sekvens, som jeg tror mange «fagfolk» innenfor fløytefaget kanskje vil reagere på, men som fungerer perfekt i denne settingen. Det starter nesten litt surt, men utvikler seg fint over trommer og bass, og vi sitter bare og venter på den store eksplosjonen. Men den kommer aldri. I stedet får vi en overraskende «nedpå» låt, hvor det meste er nedskrevet. Blåserne legger seg fint inntil Kjærs fløytespill, og det hele ender så vakkert, så vakkert.

Deretter følger «Playgo», som starter litt forsiktig, før Gutvik igjen får utfolde seg med sitt helt særegne gitarspill, som også kan høres ut som noe elektronikk gjort av Tommi Keränen, før hel bandet kommer smygende, med den svenske trombonisten Mats Äleklint i førersetet. Han avleverer en av sine sedvanlige, stjernesoloer, som nesten ingen gjør ham etter, over noen lekne riff fra de andre blåserne. Trompeteren Thomas Johansson overtar og det enkle temaer ruller fra den ene blåseren til den andre, og det hele bygger seg opp til noe ekstatisk. En tung elbass kommer inn, men heller ikke her eksploderer det, slik vi er vant til fra Large Unit. Men det gjør ingenting! De holder oss bare på pinebenken, mens den musikken som kommer ut av høytalerne i aller høyeste grad er spennende og interessant. Vi får solier fra flere av musikerne, og innimellom er vi et godt stykke inne i den frijazzen vi fikk på 60- og 70-tallet fra for eksempel Jazz Composers Orchestra, før det renner ut med elektronikken til Keränen.

Så runder de av dette settet med «Happy Slappy», hvor Äleklint setter standarden sammen med Nilssen-Love og en av bassistene på elbass. Blåserne kommer inn med et riff, men Äleklint lar seg ikke stoppe så lett. Men etter hvert er han fornøyd og overlater scenen til Gutviks gitar og Keränens elektronikk. Johanssons trompet overtar, på sedvanlig, skarpt vis, mens han inviterer de andre til å bli med på reisen. Og de lar seg ikke be to ganger. Klaus Ellerhusen Holm plukker fram barytonsaksofonen og avleverer en solo det slår gnister ut av, men de andre lar han ikke holde på for lenge. En av altsaksofonistene overtar (jeg tror det må være Alberts, men det kan også være Kjær), eller er det kanskje en klarinett. Men det er ikke så farlig. Alberts kommer uansett inn med en fin tenorsaksofonsolo over rullende trommer, og det hele er i ferd med å bygge seg opp til et uvær i Vestlands-klassen, som Nilssen-Love kjenner så godt. Men det smeller ikke helt, slik man kjenner vestavinden dundre over sørvestlandet. Nilssen-Love stopper de andre musikerne før det går langt. Og plutselig er det slutt. Vi blir sittende igjen med et slags rop om mer, mer! Men det kommer ikke på platen, men jeg regner med at publikum på Victoria krevde, og fikk det.

Innspillingen er gjort live på Victoria, Nasjonal jazzscene i Oslo den 8. april 2016, og for oss som ikke hadde muligheten til å være i Oslo den kvelden, er denne innspillingen en gave vi tar imot med stor glede. Det låter strålende hele veien, og det er ikke bare «tut og kjør» fra start til mål, slik det av og til kan være når man har med Paal Nilssen-Love å gjøre. Her er det derimot stor variasjon i spillet, og de fleste musikerne slipper til, der de føler de har noe de skulle ha sagt.

Derfor er også denne utgaven av Large Unit en opplevelse av de sjeldne. På deres forrige innspilling hadde de med flere perkusjonister i bandet, blant annet Celio de Carvalho, noe som gjorde musikken mer «brasiliansk». Men denne gangen er det tilbake til «røttene», og den musikken vi er blitt vant til å få fra dette ensemblet. Rått, tøft, spennende og ytterst interessant!

Så da er det bare for noen arrangører i København å få dette «holdet» nedover. Vi nordmenn, som er akterutseilt her nede, forlanger det. Selv om jeg ikke er sikker på om de mer profilerte nordmenn, som Åge Hareide og Ståle Solbakken, vil møte opp om denne gjengen med energibarer stiller på en scene i kongens by. Men jeg vil være på plass! Garantert! For dette bandet skal man bare høre så ofte man kan! — Jan Granlie, Salt Peanuts

Large Unit
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

Large Unit
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

Large Unit
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

Large Unit
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,

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

Interview with Paal Nilssen-Love, September 2015

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.
download (8.27 MB)
"Ana" Reviews download (2.70 MB)
Concert Reports download (0.70 MB)
"Erta Ale" Reviews download (2.10 MB)

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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