As has been the case with many of the performances in the Outside the Spotlight Series, which celebrated its 10th anniversary last night at the Mecca studios on Manchester, the music began as a grouping of very separate voices. In this case, they belonged to the Frode Gjerstad Trio, a powerfully industrious improvisational music collective from Norway.
In the concert’s opening moments, the three instrumental voices were introduced fully blown but wholly segregated. It was as though they has been left to stew and brew on their own before realizing, at the instant the concert began, that they weren’t alone.
Such a discovery triggered a fascinating cacophony that grew all the more luminous as the musicians began to search out common ground.
Gjerstad began the evening with short, scruffy jabs on alto saxophone that were quickly elongated intro sharp squeals. Bassist Jon Rune Strom opened with runs that were fast, thick and fierce and a physical intensity he would continually refer to throughout the performance. Drummer Paal Nilssen-Love was – initially, at least – almost pokerfaced in his playing, offering percussion that discreetly moved about on its own before accelerating into brisker, more complete fills. The more Nilssen-Love found and worked off his trio mates the more expansive his playing became.
As with the rest of the untitled improvisations that filled two 45 minute sets, the music coalesced into a sound more singular. It wasn’t necessarily rhythmic, although Nilssen-Love offered some brief, boppish turns during an extended second set drum solo. Instead the music became something of a quilt, a fascinating musical texture that inevitably used Gjerstad’s leads on alto sax and clarinet as focal points.
The two extremes of the trio’s music were presented in astonishingly concise and dramatic form during the evening’s final two improvs. The first, which encompassed much of the set, would build itself to a boil and then subside in way that wasn’t so much groove-conscious as it was respiratory in design. The temperament of Gjerstad’s playing was especially fascinating here.
But the finale was the real beaut – a hushed, whispery meditation led by light but scorched lines on clarinet and a fascinating drum roll employing snare and brushes that sounded both hypnotic and fractured.
And in the end, we had the real treat. After Nilssen-Love slowly snuffed the music out, the audience was left with the most beautiful sound – a beat of exquisite silence.