Mats Gustafsson & Craig Taborn - Ljubljana

Label/Year: Clean Feed, 2017

Lineup - Mats Gustafson: saxophone; Craig Taborn: piano.

craig-taborn-mats-gustafsson-ljubljana

Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafson and American pianist Craig Taborn, two dauntless explorers with an accentuated inclination for avant-garde jazz and free improvisation, had never joined forces until the 2015 Slovenia Jazz Festival. 
That singular happening, a live duo performance completely improvised was turned into a two-long-track vinyl record, entitled Ljubljana, which is now available on the Portuguese label Clean Feed.

While this is the first move of the year for the prolific saxophonist, the highly in-demand pianist saw his magnificent album, Daylight Ghosts, coming out on the ECM label three months ago. 

The Eyes Moving Slowly”, the opening and lengthiest track at over 20 minutes, begins with Taborn’s dark combination of bass notes while Gustafson sneaks in with a few air blows. A few minutes later, the latter unleashes the beast in him, showing us the power of his baritone saxophone through vociferous deep-toned outcries that can be tied in with pain, pleasure, or fear. At this phase, Taborn embraces the macabre scenario by creating continuous murky textures of distinct intensities. The verbal fury is gradually mitigated, opening space to a punctilious pianism supported by single-note lines rather than wider chords. Simultaneously, Gustafson plays with timbres and explores sounds of various kinds. The tune ends up in an oddly disjointed dance.

The almost-18-minute “The Ears Facing the Fantasies” starts out through (un)geometric figures engendered by Taborn, who takes in Gustafson’s attacks with a ceaseless, self-ruling posture.
The saxophonist puts into practice a variety of extended techniques - his famous slap and flutter tonguing, roars, growls, and whistles. He complements all this with rapid-fire phrases and the sound of his own voice. Moods range from dense/grotesque to minimalistic/graceful.

The liberties arise with an opulent fervency, drawing intense musical moments that could make this record a hard nut to crack, especially if taken by someone whose taste falls out of the free jazz circuit.

         Grade  B+

         Grade B+

Favorite Track:
01 – The Eyes Moving Slowly


DKV Trio & The Thing - Collider

Ken Vandermark: reeds; Kent Kessler: bass; Hamid Drake: drums; Mats Gustafsson: reeds; Haker Flaten: bass; Paal Nilssen-Love: drums. 

DKV-Thing-Collider

Joining two of the most well-established free/avant-garde jazz trios of our times on the same recording can be simultaneously bold and risky. However, the idea is not a novelty for DKV Trio, which already teamed up with AALY Trio in Double or Nothing (2002) and Gustafsson/Nilssen-Love/Pupillo in Schl8hof (2013). 
In Collider, the undamaged, piercing sounds of DKV and The Thing trios merge, evincing a high compatibility without losing a bit of identity. None of the formations superimpose to the other, but rather combine efforts for striking us through their bracing sonic textures.

The American DKV Trio, active since 1996, has drummer Hamid Drake, bassist Kent Kessler, and multi-reedist Ken Vandermark as its pillars while the nordic The Thing, whose debut was in 2000, is composed of Paal Nilssen-Love on drums, Haker Flaten on bass, and Mats Gustafsson on reeds. 

Collaborations with individual musicians are not uncommon practices for the trios - DKV had saxophonist Fred Anderson and guitarist/bassist Joe Morris on their side; The Thing joined forces with vocalist Neneh Cherry and Sonic Youth’s singer-guitarist Thurston Moore. 
The three extended tracks of Collider, driven by fluent, improvised melodic interactions and insane rhythmic locomotion, were recorded live in 2015 at Manggha Hall in Krakow, Poland.

The opening tune, “Cards”, shows a top-notch sextet dropping wild cards on the table and winning us over with an upfront attitude that brings raucous sounds wrapped in hard-and-groovy bass-drums contractions and expansions. The energy can be felt in every section, where the expansive languages of free jazz and rock music cross with an upbeat power funk of colossal intensity. We have the perfect notion that there’s a multitude of creative possibilities for these wild cats.

Moving Map” is 24 minutes long and opens with two bowed basses and the clamant, high-pitched notes of Vandermark’s clarinet. They seem to be asking for Gustafsson’s tenor saxophone, inviting him to take part in the game. When that happens, the tune is immediately reshaped into an ultra-rapid rhythmic blast. Minutes later, it suffers another mutation, this time settling on a hypnotic African-style pulse with baritone ostinatos on top. A polyrhythmic dialogue between the drummers brings unexpected Latin aromas before the band returns to the relentless untamed spirit they are known for.

Left And Left Again” draws darker atmospheres on the account of the bassists’ sinister lines. In order to frame this picture, industrial rhythms are put up with the same vigorous collective improvisations atop.

The impactful Collider is a delight for any enthusiast of the modern creative jazz genre. This is what happens when six members with this level of technique and creativity team up. They punch you in the face while keeping you dancing at the same time. 

         Grade  A+

         Grade A+

Label: Not Two Records, 2016
Favorite Tracks: 
01 – Cards ► 02 – Moving Map