Three concerts, all featuring a member of Viking power jazz trio, The Thing. Each one doing their own… well, thing.
Mats Gustafsson – saxophones
Mats Gustafsson. Standing alone on a big stage. Facing a big audience. Tarnished weapon of choice hanging around his neck. We should probably feel fear, or at least trepidation; instead, it’s impatient expectation. It begins with animal cries, the announcements of some prehistoric pachyderm – maybe pain, maybe joy, maybe both. A chorus of screeches, wails, salutations, threats, menaces and exultations, all interspersed with the gurgling and tongue slaps of predatory respiration. Okay, enough wordy hyperbole, he made a hell of a lot of noise for one guy with a horn and it was great.
The second piece, Gustafsson explained, was inspired by the Sami word for the feeling you get inside when you’re skiing and suddenly hit bare ground. It was strangled, gasping, tactile and percussive. Another Sami-inspired piece. Then a tribute to late Henrik Otto Donner, much-loved Finnish avant-garde pioneer. Playing to the crowd? And finally, a short piece each to his Thing “brothers”. It was fascinating to hear this guy play solo, kind of Gustafsson in ‘pure’ form.
Paal Nilssen-Love Large Unit
Thomas Johansson – trumpet
Mats Äleklint – trombone
Julie Kjær – alto sax
Klaus Holm – alto sax
Per Åke Holmlander – tuba
Ketil Gutvik – guitar
Jon Rune Strøm – bass
Christian Meaas Svendsen – bass
Andreas Wildhagen – drums
Paal Nilssen-Love – drums
Tommi Keränen – electronics
Christian Obermayer – sound engineer
In complete contrast to the solo previous solo performance, Nilssen-Love brings his huge cacophony to the stage. With two drummers, 5-piece horn section (including tuba!), guitar, two basses and electronics, the only thing missing is someone playing the kitchen sink (the airline probably mislaid it). Unsurprisingly, although he is always ‘at the service of the music’, it’s PNL’s drumming that drives the set; sometimes subtly, sometimes with bombast and force – both work in their place.
The electronics are a nice touch and give the unit a distinctive sonic signature, at one point taking a solo of creaking, churning destruction. And perhaps creating the sound of destruction is the point – we’re still in viking territory; this is Ragnarök.
The Young Mothers
Jason Jackson – sax
Jawwaad Taylor – vocals, trumpet
Jonathan Horne – guitar, vocals
Ingebrigt Håker Flaten – acoustic and electric bass
Stefan Gonzales – vibraphone, drums, vocals
Frank Rosaly – drums
Okay, now we’re taking eclectic to a whole new level. For a start, between Taylor’s rap cap’n’shades look and Gonzales looking like Hawkwind’s roadie, there’s an immediate visual signifier that this is going to be no ordinary performance. It isn’t.
A free bass solo is joined by horn and a manic hammering of the vibes. The guitar (a little too quiet at the beginning) and drums are enjoyably random. Taylor alternates seamlessly between restrained yet explosive trumpet work and rap challenge. It works. It more than works. Maybe it shouldn’t but it does.
In all the seeming chaos, the riff is never lost, always carried by someone. Then Gonzales sits behind a second full drum kit and suddenly anything resembling ‘jazz convention’ is no longer even on the horizon. The twin drum attack coincides with a volume upgrade for Horne’s guitar, allowing his distortion and feedback-laden frenzy to take centre-stage. It’s free jazz, it’s heavy rock, it’s rap – this is not a fusion, it’s a collision.
And then it gets strange. In a good way. Gonzales adds his best death metal (non-)vocals, roaring into the mic without missing a beat, mixing it up with Taylor’s rapping.
I defy anyone to give this a genre label. And in that sense, there is a connection to namesake forebears, the Mothers of Invention: no style or musical ingredient is forbidden, the only test is can you make it work? And they do. They do.
(Photos courtesy of Anna Filipieva at http://www.jazz.ru)