By Dave Cantor | Published August 2019
It’s easy to lament any bygone era, just as mourning the increased use of electronics in jazz is a mantra some are unwilling to let go of. Regardless of your feelings about drum programming or electronics in general, there was something intensely precious about a time when bands just set up on the floor and went at it.
Norwegian drummer Gard Nilssen plays in troupes that make the most of technology, but his trio Acoustic Unity—with bassist Petter Eldh and reedist André Roligheten—is something of a throwback, even as the music on To Whom Who Buys A Record seeks to cultivate an unconventional language. The knotty verbiage of the album’s title also references the past—To Whom Who Keeps A Record, an Ornette Coleman disc collecting material from 1959–’60. And while the music here isn’t necessarily beholden to the saxophone icon’s work, the same sense of adventure tugs at both.
Nilssen leads the trio through 12 post-post-bop explorations, while Roligheten’s voice emerges as a distinguishing feature. There’s a distinctive, but somehow fragile, Coltrane vibe on “Masakråke,” a tune written by the bandleader that highlights his indelible connection with the reedist, who bleats out the theme then effortlessly shifts to improv.
Acoustic Unity hasn’t been Nilssen’s main focus, his time being split among Cortex, the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra and sundry other outfits. But To Whom and 2017’s Live In Europe (Clean Feed) illustrate that he values the trio as a vehicle for his writing, unfettered by bombast—and electrical concerns.