For my money the best concerts put the audience in a world where everything makes sense. The Frode Gjerstad Trio did that when they played on January 21.
The approximately hundred people in attendance swayed and pulsated to the music. Many had their eyes closed. Hands pounded knees in unison with drummer Hamid Drake's grooves. Heads shrieked and turned to the sax playing of Frode Gjerstad. Some people hung on every hand gesture, move, or sound that came from bassist William Parker. Everybody seemed to be caught in a daze by the music. It was a powerful night to say the least.
The group played two sets that added up to a little over two hours of music. The first set began with Gjerstad on his own playing a relatively frantic solo. After a couple of minutes, Parker entered the fray and shortly after that so did Drake. The mood would change slowly but surely as the roughly 55 minute continues performance went on. There would be peaks of sound that took the audience from one extreme to another. About midway through the set, Gjerstad took a breather as Parker and Drake continued. Drake gradually moved to the background and let Parker shine. It has been said before but it bears repeating that it sometimes feels like Parker can get any and every sound out of his bass. This spot lasted only a few minutes before Gjerstad returned and group hit new crescendo.
After an intermission, the three started up again. This time it was Drake that lead off on a collection of hand drums. Gjerstad and Parker soon joined in and gradually opened up the space for Drake to move back to the kit, which happened sans any significant interruption in the musical flow. Though out this composition, Gjerstad would repeatedly hint at comical and flamboyant sax lines but just stay a hair away. This kept the audience from being able to fully predict what would happen. Drake, for his part, was able to use the entire drum kit in order to create solid grooves. Along the way he managed added dashes of eastern influences to the mix. It was Parker, however, that stole the show. At the end of this 65-minute performance, Gjerstad and Drake dropped out and gave the bassist the room to quietly tickle his instrument. Few eyes with the key exception of Parker himself- were closed and no hands were drumming. The crowd hung on every de-escalating note till it ended. At that point, the crowd seemed hesitant to clap if only because they weren't quite sure what they had just heard. They need a bit to soak it in and make sense of it. Once that had happened, the ovations began.
The trio closed the show by with a ballad intended, in Gjerstad's words, "just to send you home safely." It seemed more like a cooling off period than an actual part of the concert but it had merit on its own terms.
Gjerstad, a native of Norway, was named the Norwegian Jazz Musician of the Year in 1997. The prize was the ability to tour with musicians of his choosing which lead to the current lineup of the Frode Gjerstad Trio. As this review has made clear, the group produces some tremendous music. If there is a criticism to be made, it is that the group provided too few conclusions and endings in the music. Maybe it is just a personal preference, but I often prefer several rides to just one. But then again, I couldn't produce anything close what I heard so what do I know. Gjerstad, Drake, and Parker too the audience on a fascinating journey.