Last Detail -- Live at Cafe Sting
Seeing New York From the Ear
Frode Gjerstad is a Norwegian alto saxophonist best known as the catalyst of Detail, whose last gig is documented on Last Detail. The trio originally included South African bassist Johnny Dyani, who, upon his death in '86, was replaced by Kent Carter. However, the group did not survive the passing of drummer John Stevens in '94, four months after the Cafe Sting date. Given that previous Detail recordings were made for small European labels, Last Detail is an accessible, affordable way for North Americans to discover, or further relish, this exceptional collaboration.
If hairs have to be split, Detail played free jazz, not freely improvised music. Gjerstad, Stevens, and Carter have strong jazz roots, and this setting allowed them to boldly extrapolate the tradition of their respective instruments. Gjerstad is a fluent, fiery player with an individualistic post-Coleman vocabulary. Carter has a rare ability to propel with textures, and texture with propulsion. Stevens was a master of ametric swing. As a result, their improvisations on Last Detail have a jazz-informed heat and focus, even when they are not built on obvious idiomatic materials.
After hearing Gjerstad almost exclusively with Detail for more than a decade, the release of Seeing New York From the Ears provides a welcome shift of perspective on Gjerstad. The seemingly boundless energy of bassist William Parker and drummer Rashid Bakr creates a daunting gauntlet for Gjerstad to run, but he proves himself more than up to the task, resulting in solos of unrelenting fervor. Subsequently, Seeing New York From the Ears is a bristling study in sustained intensity. Even though this '96 Knitting Factory set was the trio's first performance, the album has the cohesion and continuity usually achieved only by established units.