Gard Nilssen’s Supersonic Orchestra-If You Listen Carefully The Music Is Yours.

Label: Odin Records.

To say that bandleader, composer, drummer and percussionist Gard Nilssen is a prolific musician is something of an understatement. Since 2007, he has played on over seventy albums by all types of groups. Mostly, it’s been with small groups including the trios Acoustic Unity, Amgala Temple and Bushman’s Revenge. However, Gard Nilssen has also played with two big bands Zanussi Thirteen and the critically acclaimed Trondheim Jazz Orchestra. They showcase a versatile, inventive and innovative drummer who can seamlessly switch between and fuse disparate styles as if at the flick of a switch. Gard Nilssen is one of Norway’s top jazz drummers and is still just thirty-six. 

Recently, he returned with anther new album If You Listen Carefully The Music Is Yours which marks the debut of Gard Nilssen’s Supersonic Orchestra. It was released on Odin Records, and was recorded live at the Molde International Jazz Festival in 2019, where Gard Nilssen was the Artist In Residence and led his new big band.

This is not just any big band. Gard Nilssen’s Supersonic Orchestra is very different to the rest and features a unique lineup. There’s three drummers and a trio of double bassists as well as ten horn players, mostly saxophonists. It was an ambitious project, but if anyone could make it work it was Gard Nilssen.

He as born in Skien, Telemark, Norway on the ‘24th’ of June 1983, and has been playing the drums since an early age. “I began drumming when I was two…My father, grandfather, uncle and two cousins played drums. There were drums everywhere. It was a jazz-loving family and I grew up listening to the classic big-band format with Count Basie. I’ve always loved the sound of a big band.” 

Even today, Gard Nilssen says that Jo Jones, the drummer with the Count Basie Orchestra between 1934–1948, is still one of his favourite musicians. He would influence the music he went on to make. 

Before that, Gard Nilssen grew up in the seaport of Skien, which was where he played in his first band with his friend Thomas Johansson who later, became a member of Gard Nilssen’s Supersonic Orchestra: “When I was eight, I started playing in a marching band in my hometown along with my best friend, the trumpeter Thomas Johansson. Later, when we were teenagers, we also played in a couple of big bands, one at high school and another in town.” 

For Gard Nilssen, the attraction of a big band is how many instrumental combinations are offered by the extended lineups. He explains: You can get so many different sounds and textures and constellations inside a big band, it’s practically infinite…And if the musicians are as fantastic as those in Supersonic, your arrangements can be dynamic rather than rigid-the music can be wilder and more spontaneous than is standard in big bands. In Supersonic there is plenty of room for the musicians to improvise and be free in the music. That is what we’re best at after all.”

Joining Supersonic was all in the future for Gard Nilssen in 2003, which was when he enrolled in the Jazz program at the Trondheim Musikkonservatorium in 2003. It’s a prestigious course and has produced many of Norway’s top musicians.

Having graduated from the Trondheim Musikkonservatorium, Gard Nilssen embarked upon a career as a professional musician. Over the next few years, he cofounded Puma, Bushman’s Revenge, Astro Sonic and Spacemonkey and founded Gard Nilssen’s Acoustic Unity, and was also a member of Lord Kelvin and Cortex. The rest of his time was spent working with other artists and groups. This included Susanne Sundfør, Zanussi Five, Mathias Eick, Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, Jens Carelius and Morten Myklebust. Gard Nilssen was one of the hardest working Norwegian musicians.

Despite that, in 2019 he accepted the invitation to become Artist In Residence at the Molde International Jazz Festival. It’s always been regarded as a showcase for audacious, adventurous, ambitious, experimental and innovative music. This described the music that Gard Nilssen’s Supersonic Orchestra were making. They were perfect for the Molde International Jazz Festival.

It was decided that when Gard Nilssen’s Supersonic Orchestra took to the stage at the Molde International Jazz Festival, that the tapes would be running and their performance recorded. 

That night, the all-star band worked their way through six tracks which were written and arranged by Gard Nilssen and Acoustic Unity’s saxophonist,André Roligheten, who the bandleader speaks highly of. “André is a genius. He took this project to another level. Making music with him is always pure pleasure.” 

And so is listening to the six tracks that they’ve written over the years and arranged for If You Listen Carefully The Music Is Yours. This includes Bøtteknott Elastic Circle and Jack which they wrote for Acoustic Unity. They’re part of 

a six track high octane workout where Gard Nilssen’s Supersonic Orchestra rethink the relationship between pre-composition and improvisation in orchestral jazz. Sometimes, they dare to flout musical convention as they push musical boundaries to their limits and sometimes beyond during the six tracks that last sixty-six minutes.

The basis for If You Listen Carefully The Music Is Yours album is free improvisation and American European and  Scandinavian avant-garde jazz as well as Afrobeat experimental jazz, free jazz, fusion and rock. Add to the musical equation three bassists and three drummers. This has its advantages.

And it’s not merely about sheer volume or traction. Gard Nilssen explains that: “Having three drummers gives each one of us more space to play around the beat.“We can go in and out of it, be more creative and add colours to the music. It means Håkon [Johansen], Hans [Hulbækmo] and I don’t have to be timekeepers all the time, which we never wanted to be in the first place. You don’t really need much timekeeping with this band anyway. You just press play and go.”

Gard Nilssen’s Supersonic Orchestra isn’t the first to deploy three bassists on an album. This is something that The Art Ensemble Of Chicago did on their 2019 album We Are On The Edge which was the fiftieth anniversary celebration of the free jazz pioneers. They’re one of number of iconic groups and artists from jazz’s past that have influenced Gard Nilssen’s Supersonic Orchestra on If You Listen Carefully The Music Is Yours.

Others influences are apparent from the opening bars of the album opener Premium Processing Fee.This includes Sun Ra’s Arkestra untamed blazing, squealing, soaring space horns as the expanded rhythm section propel the arrangement along. Later, as the arrangement swings, a saxophone solo seems to pay homage to Eric Dolphy as it is played with speed, power and control. The sound of the Orchestra in full flight is an impressive one. Then with two minutes left it’s all change and the tempo drops and improvisation is the order of the day, as a myriad of naturalistic, eerie and otherworldly sounds are added to what’s now become an experimental soundscape and shows that it’s a case of expect the unexpected on  If You Listen Carefully The Music Is Yours.

Welcome additions to the album are the orchestral interpretations of two of Acoustic Unity’s tracks. The first is Bøtteknott Elastic Circle where the Orchestra tease the listener playing slowly before bursting melodically into life. Now that they’ve been let off the leash there’s no stopping them and they play with speed, power and inventiveness as horns rasp, bray, growl and intertwine. The playing is tight and swings as the tempo increases and a lone saxophone is played with power, control, fluidity and feel before gradually other members of the freewheeling Orchestra enter the fray and play with freedom as the music becomes joyous, melodic and truly memorable. However, with two minutes left the tempo drops and the arrangement becomes understated and ruminative as is another twist in the tale.

Initially, Teppen Dance is understated with just the basses playing. They snap as they’re played firmly and with confidence. It’s as if they’re trying to grab the listener’s attention as they hint at what’s to come. Then at 4:41 as a beautiful sultry saxophone enters and brings to mind another musical era and jazz’s golden age. Meanwhile, waves of beautiful, emotive and filmic music unfold and paint pictures as the listener enjoys eleven stunning and magical minutes of moving music.

Drums rumble and combine with percussion and crashing cymbals as The City Of Roses begins to reveal its secrets. Mournful horns play, drums add drama and cymbals crash before a lone bass scrabbles and plays almost hesitantly and gives way to a clarinet. It squeaks, screeches and soars melodically before briefly the horns sweep in and soon intertwine, quiver, shiver and shimmer before reaching a crescendo and dissipating.

Jack is the other Acoustic Unity tracks that is reinvented on If You Listen Carefully The Music Is Yours. For just over two-and-a-half minutes the basses and percussion combine to create an understated fusion of avant-garde and experimental music before the horns and rhythm section enter and head in a direction marked jazz. Suddenly, the track is transformed. Especially during a saxophone solo which is played with speed, fluidity, power and precision, then briefly heads in the direction of free jazz. Later, machine gun free horns punctuate the arrangement which goes on to incorporate hip swaying Latin percussion as the track heads towards a high kicking crescendo.

Closing If You Listen Carefully The Music Is Yours is the barnstormingAfrobeat-tinged Bytta Bort Kua Fikk Fela Igjen. It’s a fourteen minute epic and Fela Kuti’s influence can be heard during parts of the track that closes what’s an adventurous, ambitious and innovative album of genre-melting music.

Fela Kuti is just the latest artist who has influenced Gard Nilssen’s Supersonic Orchestra on Gard Nilssen’s Supersonic Orchestra. Others included The Art Ensemble Of Chicago, Sun Ra’s Arkestra, Eric Dolphy and the mid-sized lineups Charles Mingus Jazz Workshop. Then the influence of The John Coltrane Quartet’s 1961 album Africa/Brass can be heard drying the album. Closer to home, the sound of Trondheim Jazz Orchestra permeates parts of the album. So does Japanese avant-garde jazz pianist, composer and big band leader Satoko Fujii. 

All these disparate influences play their part in the sound and success of Gard Nilssen’s Supersonic Orchestra’s audacious, adventurous and ambitious debut album If You Listen Carefully The Music Is Yours, which is a captivating and often high octane musical adventure full of twists and turns and surprises aplenty.

Gard Nilssen’s Supersonic Orchestra-If You Listen Carefully The Music Is Yours.

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