Spontaneous creative music, i.e. ‘free jazz,’ usually tends toward high-energy output and daredevil antics. The appeal is like that of theater, generated in the immediacy of the moment and sometimes the physicality of the creation. The charms of spontaneous music are often lost in the conversion from ‘live’ event to recorded disc.
Nothing though seems lost on this recorded duo between Mats Gustafsson and Barry Guy. The Swede Gustafsson has continued to generate excellent recordings these past six years, playing an array of saxophones, flutes and the self-designed fluteophone. His association with other creative musicians include Chicago’s Ken Vandermark in the FJF quartet, Peter Brotzmann’s Chicago Octet/Tentet, and his own band the AALY trio which featured Vandermark on Stumble (1998), Hidden In The Stomach (1998), and Live At The Glenn Miller Cafe (1999). Last year, Gustafsson released the jaw-dropping Windows: The Music Of Steve Lacy, a solo tribute to one of jazz’s greatest soloists.
Teamed with London-born bassist Barry Guy, Gustafsson has found his most sympathetic collaborator yet. Guy, almost twenty years his senior, has led a dual existence in both classical and improvisational music. He founded and is the artistic director of the London Jazz Composers Orchestra and has worked with a who’s-who of jazz improvisers including Marilyn Crispell, Evan Parker, Bill Dixon, Paul Plimley, and performed with the long standing trio of Evan Parker, Paul Lytton and Guy.
This date, recorded in 1997 for Guy’s imprint Maya Recordings, follows up the Guy/Gustafsson trio recording Mouth Eating Trees And Related Activities with percussionist Paul Lovens. Like the Trees disc, the interaction between the musicians is the key to the recording. Guy plays an alternating supporting and leading role here, eschewing timekeeping for conversation. While much of the improvisation is aggressive, physical music-making, none of it is noisy. Guy cajoles sounds from his bass much like Cecil Taylor exercises a keyboard. He works all the angles plucking, strumming, thumping, and sawing notes. Gustafsson for his part is constantly creating a new vocabulary for the saxophone (or whatever horn he picks up), leaning just as much on the vocal qualities of his breath as blown notes. His growling mouthpiece work and extended horn techniques make his horn the equivalent of a prepared guitar or piano. With the sound of Gustafsson’s horn, you get a sense of truly human expression.
The recording is also unlike many spontaneous creative jazz recordings, in that the listener has a desire to repeat the act of listening to this disc. Even though the tunes are far from melodic or transcribe-able, this free session of jazz bears repeat visits.