Paal was born in Molde, Norway, Dec 24. 1974, and raised at a jazz club in Stavanger, run by his parents. It was natural to choose his fathers drums as his instrument and jazz as his work. From 1990 on he took actively part in the jazz milieu in Stavanger and joined bands with established musicians such as trumpeter Didrik Ingvaldsen and saxophonist Frode Gjerstad. In many ways, these collaborations were essential as they pointed out the directions for Paal’s later musical development and career. During his studies at the Jazz dept at the University in Trondheim, where the first self initiated bands were established, things developed really fast – and 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 musically became a platform for several other groups with bassist Flaten and pianist Wiik, and lead to collaborations with Iain Ballamy and Chris Potter, amongst others. Paal moved to Oslo in 1996, where he joined and/or took part in the forming of bands like Vindaloo, SAN, Håkon Kornstad Tio, The Quintet and Frode Gjerstad Trio. He later on got more into self initiated projects and collaborations with Swedish musicians, such as pianist Sten Sandell and saxophonist Mats Gustafsson.
Paal played his first solo concert in 1999, and since then the solo concept has been an important part of his work: “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 put out in 2001 on SOFA Rec.
Being active in several bands at the same time has always been Paal’s deliberate working method. He is constantly conscious about the projects he is in, as 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 Atomic, School Days, The Thing, Frode Gjerstad Trio, Sten Sandell Trio, Scorch Trio, Territory Band, FME, and various duo projects such as with reedmen Ken Vandermark, John Butcher, Mats Gustafsson, organist Nils Henrik Asheim and noise wizard Lasse Marhaug. And not to forget the recently joined Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet.
Before turning 30 Paal has stated his position as one of the most profiled drummers in Europe today, he has made numberless performances at festivals and clubs in Europe and USA and participated on more than 50 recordings. He runs his own annual festival – All Ears – for improvised music in Oslo, which is an important part of his musical life, and he plans to start his own recording label for vinyl productions. Like 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 latest 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!”