Paal was born in Molde, Norway, Dec 24. 1974. Musically raised at the jazz club in Stavanger, run at that time by his parents, it was natural for him to choose his fathers drums as his instrument and jazz as his life’s work. From 1990 onwards he took an active part in the jazz milieu in Stavanger joining bands led by established musicians such as trumpeter Didrik Ingvaldsen and saxophonist Frode Gjerstad. These collaborations were essential as they introduced the direction for Paal's subsequent musical development and career. During his studies at the Jazz department in the University in Trondheim, several bands were established, and things developed really fast - Paal was nationally acknowledged at the age of 20.
The forming of the quartet Element in 1993 in many ways represented the start of a new phase in Paal's musical life. Element, as well as inspiring a new generation of young musicians in Norway, became a platform for several other constellations with the groups bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and pianist Håvard Wiik, and lead to collaborations with amongst others, Iain Ballamy and Chris Potter. Paal moved to Oslo in 1996, where he joined and/or took part in the forming of such bands as Vindaloo, SAN, Håkon Kornstad Trio, Atomic, The Quintet and Frode Gjerstad Trio. Later on he initiated projects and collaborations with the Swedish musicians, pianist Sten Sandell and saxophonist Mats Gustafsson.
Paal gave his first solo concert in 1999, and since then the solo concept has been an important part of his programme: "Everyone should try doing some solo work, just to feel who you really are and what gets you going". His solo album "Sticks and Stones" was released in 2001 on SOFA Records, which sold out within a few years. He has released 6 solo albums since then.
In 2002 Molde International Jazz festival invited Paal to be Artist in Residence and gave him "carte blanche” to create his own program throughout the week. To this end he performed at 9 concerts over 6 days.
2006 saw Paal receiving the Buddy prize, which is the most acclaimed prize in Norwegian Jazz.
Being active in several bands has always been Paal's deliberate working method. He is highly conscious about the projects he is in, and his participation in each and one of them is fully dedicated. Playing is not about getting from start to goal, but rather being in an everlasting process, a continuous movement where each new piece of music performed is a prolongation of the latest. Hence, keeping focused and concentrating all energy around what's happening there and then is of greatest importance - as is the freedom in the music, the ability of being free within the expression.
All bands, although various styles and musical versatility in general, represent important pieces that make up a total, and all bands are formed or joined with a clear vision. Today Paal's portfolio includes The Thing, Frode Gjerstad Trio, Fire Room, Lean Left, Sten Sandell Trio, and various duo projects such as with reedmen Ken Vandermark, John Butcher, Peter Brötzmann, Joe McPhee and Mats Gustafsson, guitarists Arto Lindsay, Thurston Moore, organist Nils Henrik Asheim and noise wizard Lasse Marhaug. Not least his own band Large Unit, a 13 piece band with mostly Norwegian musicians of the younger generation.
Paal has confirmed his position as one of the most profiled drummers in Europe of today, he has given numerous performances at festivals and clubs in Europe, USA, Canada, South America, Africa and Japan, and participated on over 200 recordings. He also sees the importance, and need of organizing tours and concerts himself. In 2015 only, he was responsible of booking 6 tours with 5 different groups in North America, Europe and Japan, a total of 52 concerts. Total of concerts in 2015 was 207. He also runs his own annual festival since 2000 -- All Ears - for improvised music in Oslo, and Blow Out festival since 2011. And he runs his own record label, (PNL records) which has reached 30 releases. As Pat Metheny put it in 2002, after having played with Paal at Molde International Jazz festival: "He is simply one of the best new musicians I've heard during the last years!" And after having heard Paal in 9 different settings at the same festival, Down Beat reporter Dan Quelette stated: "His week at Molde proved a revelation: Nilssen-Love is one of the most innovative, dynamic and versatile drummers in jazz!"
Photo: Peter Gannushkin