Paal Nilssen-Love and Lasse Marhaug
he word “difficult” comes to mind when listening to Personal Hygiene. Not bad, just difficult. Here we have a fifty-plus minute document of one of Norway’s finest jazz drummers, Paal Nilssen-Love, and laptop guru Lasse Marhaug (known for his work with Jazzkammer and Maja Ratkje), captured live at the Numusic Festival in Stavanger, Norway. One track over fifty minutes? Difficult. Relentless drumkit bombast that rarely coalesces into an idenitfiable groove? Difficult. Metal shard power electronics and thunderstorm pressure rumbles?
You get the picture.
But in the end, after the listener has survived the chaotic outpouring of sound, this difficulty is a virtue. Personal Hygiene seems designed to elude memory. Transitions are so rapid that the listener cannot absorb and recall a cymbal blast here or an electronic squall there, even right after its departure. The two musicians are too talented and eager to linger on an idea, even for the sake of the listener. The result is an overpowering listen, one that frustrates and intrigues in equal measure. For the first twenty minutes—or perhaps for the first several listens, depending on your willingness to indulge the artists—you’ll want to reach through the speakers to shake Marhaug and Nilssen-Love, to snatch their instruments so that they might settle down. But eventually you’ll succumb to the barrage, and you’ll be rewarded.
The fury of the record conceals the considerable chemistry between Nilssen-Love and Marhaug. Their interplay dazzles. Nilssen-Love conjures rapid-fire drumstick clatter to match Marhaug’s frantic squalls, and he retreats to atmospheric cymbal work when Marhaug eases into a more reflective mood reminiscent of the subtle Jazzkammer album Pancakes.
These quiet interludes save Personal Hygiene. Not only do they allow the record (not to mention the listeners and the performers) a chance to breathe, but they create a pool of serenity for the coming hurricane of sound to develop over.
Personal Hygiene certainly isn’t for everyone, but that’s probably for the best. Only 75 copies have been printed by Milwaukee’s Utech Records. Those of you who seek a challenging listen, one that rewards endurance with unrivaled intensity and scattered snatches of brilliance, had better hustle over to the website to pick one up. Long-form avant garde improvisation is by definition difficult, but once you accept Personal Hygiene for what it is, you’ll find it’s a stunning work within its genre.