The Thing with Barry Guy: Metal!
No Business Records
In science, a substance which causes an increase in the rate of a chemical reaction is called a catalyst. In musical combinations, the inclusion (or sometimes even subtraction) of one player can have a similar result, often completely altering the regular dynamic. So it proves on Metal! where Scandinavian power trio The Thing are transformed by the addition of English bass maestro Barry Guy. However the foursome's interplay, captured in sparkling sound from a live date in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, smacks of alchemy transcending any more prosaic chemical process.
The ten collectively birthed constructs and one cover on this vinyl double LP set the pulse racing and give food for thought in equal measure. Paradoxically, Guy's presence results in performance which accentuates quiet timbral colloquy over no holds barred tumult, though Swedish reedman Mats Gustafsson's smoldering volcano is always on the verge of eruption. That magical tension between the Englishman and the Swede has been exploited in a many arenas over the last two decades, with the saxophonist featuring in the Barry Guy New Orchestra, and the latest incarnation of the London Jazz Composers Orchestra, as well as in various duo and trio settings with the bassist. Among those the Tarfala Trio's Syzygy (No Business, 2011) provides one particularly potent example.
Both individual prowess and highly attuned responsiveness inform every piece. Bassist Ingebrigt Haker Flaten rises to the challenge of performing on the same instrument alongside one of free music's premier improvisers. Though typically muscular and forceful and more likely to deploy repeating patterns, the Norwegian also enlists subtlety and variety in his armory. Guy produces an astounding range of interventions, delighting in sudden contrasts, often within the course of the same phrase. High koto-like plucks jostle with resounding thwacks and scrapes, hums and ripples of indeterminate origin, and even occasional snatches of melody. Indeed the interchange between the two bassists is just one of this releases many virtues, not least on "Praseodymium," a mercurial duet which moves through a kaleidoscope of moods, from boisterous to pensive.
Also contributing to the distinctive flavor, drummer Paal Nilssen-Love demonstrates careful restraint. More colorist than powerhouse for much of the set, the space he demarcates allows the twin basses to percolate through the rhythmic latticework as peers. Gustafsson remains a force of nature, with a mighty post-Albert Ayler shriek which carries great emotional heft in its paint stripping vehemence. But equally affecting are the elegiac meditations which come in the aftermath of the storms. It's the contrast between the two which enhances both, as proven repeatedly on "Lanthanum" which evolves from the conversational to the incantatory as the energy levels to ebb and flow throughout its 16-minute duration.
Quieter interludes occur with more regularity than might be expected given The Thing's reputation. "Samarium," featuring Gustafsson on slide saxophone, is meditative and atmospheric, while "Terbium" showcases Guy's harmonics, framed by a bass and baritone drone. More in line with expectations is "Europium," where spacious interaction between the Swede's baritone saxophone and the bristling basses builds to a formidable exchange and a sizzling cymbal feature for Nilssen-Love. Even here the intensity is undercut by a breathtaking coda of swooping spidery arco overtones from Guy. A ferociously tight reading of noise rock band Lightning Bolt's "Ride The Sky," reprised from the trio's Action Jazz (Smalltown Superjazzz, 2006), completes the performance in exhilarating style, creating a wonderful counterpoint to the preceding 70 minutes. Any downsides? Well only one: the decision to issue this set on vinyl perhaps means that it sadly won't be as widely heard as it deserves.
Tracks: Side 1: Lanthanum; Cerium; Side 2: Praseodymium; Neodymium; Side 3: Promethium; Samarium; Europium; Side 4: Gadolinium; Terbium; Dysprosium; Ride the Sky.
Personnel: Mats Gustafsson: baritone saxophone, tenor saxophone, slide saxophone; Ingebrigt Håker Flaten: bass; Barry Guy: bass; Paal Nilssen-Love: drums