Paal Nilssen-Love’s Large Unit explores varied compositional gambits through large-scale improvisation | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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Paal Nilssen-Love’s Large Unit explores varied compositional gambits through large-scale improvisation

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It’s no small feat that Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love has maintained his sprawling, heavily improvised big band—the dubiously named Large Unit—for half a decade in an era where economic realities are at odds with keeping an actively recording and touring group of international players together. But he’s done just that with a largely unchanging cast of first-rate musicians from Scandinavia that’s toured on four continents. While the leader clearly relishes the feverish interplay of a dozen players, his writing for the group has grown more sophisticated and ambitious, with pieces that often develop from riff-oriented frameworks for blowing into more involved vehicles that explore unusual rhythms and the occasional lovely harmony. The music on Large Unit’s 2016 album Ana was recorded with two additional percussionists, Brazilian musicians Celio de Carvalho and Paulinho Bicolor, who play an arsenal of regional instruments including cuica, tamborim, pandeiro, and berimbau. Rather than simply adding to the polyrhythmic stew, the band incorporates the feel of those indigenous rhythms into its onslaught, deftly fueling its multihorn action with an unexpected Carnaval punch. On last year’s Fluku, the group contrasted the jagged, high-octane counterpoint that pulses through the brassy title track with “Springsummer,” a tender ballad on which Danish player Julie Kjær weaves her flute through a pastel-hued arrangement. “Playgo” delivers a different kind of surprise, with punchy, pointillistic brass patterns propelling a series of tuneful improvisations as the energy slowly but deliberately builds up to a raucous explosion. For the group’s latest project, the digital album More Fun, Please, Nilssen-Love merged members of his group with Intuitive People, a 20-strong student ensemble from the Norwegian Academy of Music, for a commissioned work, an extended piece that draws on contemporary classical music and has room for improvisation and radical extremes in timbre, density, and dynamics. The lineup for the group’s first Chicago visit since 2015 features reedists Julie Kjær, Kristoffer Berre Alberts, Klaus Ellerhusen Holm, trombonist Mats Äleklint, trumpeter Thomas Johansson, guitarist Ketil Gutvik, bassists Jon Rune Strøm and Christian Meaas Svendsen, tubaist Per Åke Holmlander, drummer Andreas Wildhagen, electronic noise musician Tommi Keränen, and sound designer Christian Obermayer.   v

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