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Gush: Afro Blue

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Gush: Afro Blue
Time brings perspective. The three members of the Swedish band Gush—pianist Sten Sandell, drummer Raymond Strid and saxophonist Mats Gustafsson—were amazed at the quality of the music on this archive tape when they heard it again a quarter century after it was recorded, having forgotten about it completely in the interim. And they are right to be taken aback. The recording, from a concert in Stockholm in December 1998, is simply magnificent. This is unsurprising in retrospect, as all three participants have since become recognized as among their country's premier exponents on the European free jazz, improvised and experimental scene.

As Gustafsson explains in the liners, the band was originally convened to explore music of the drone-related Armenian duduk, a double reed wind instrument, but—over time—dispensed with charts entirely. This date, which was already ten years after the group's founding, finds them still using written material, in this case two numbers by Sandell and one cover, Mongo Santamaria's "Afro Blue." Something of the original inspiration still surfaces in Sandell's carpets of rolling tremolos and in the haunting refrains that underpin each piece, but they are extended into the increasingly unfettered territory to which they later committed themselves.

Both of the pianist's selections are extracts from what might be termed a one-man largely instrumental opera of the same name, which appeared on LJ Records in 1999. With Gustafsson on tenor, "Behind The Chords V" develops from an incantatory aching somber theme into a fever pitch of emotion, with churning piano and drums over which the saxophone indulges in repeated altissimo pleading. However, they leaven the intensity with spacious episodes, like Strid's tonally airy and varied solo, which erupts into a fiery sax-drum duet. It is an ecstatic and intense experience.

They show themselves to be masters of form on the carefully controlled exposition of "Behind The Chords VI." A doleful piano and soprano sax unison births mercurial interplay. Then, in a reprise, the theme gradually fragments before entering a sequence of diverse improvisatory spaces until they regroup for a forceful terminal invocation.

The title track benefits from the same treatment. Taken slower than the classic John Coltrane version, it transforms into a cathartic dirge, notable for the profound foreboding evoked by Sandell's heaving bass register and Gustafsson's keening tenor anguish. The final pithy "Improvisation 2 (After The Chords)," likely an encore, offers the complete antithesis: calm murmurs and solace.

After something of a hiatus, punctuated only by the splendid Gush 30 Krakow 2018 (NotTwo, 2023) box set celebrating the three decades of the outfit's existence, Gustafsson's liners suggest that the trio may become operational once more. If so, Afro Blue indicates pathways that might yet bear further scrutiny.

Track Listing

Behind The Chords V; Behind The Chords VI; Afro Blue; Improvisation 2 (After The Chords).

Personnel

Additional Instrumentation

Mats Gustafsson: tenor, soprano saxophones

Album information

Title: Afro Blue | Year Released: 2024 | Record Label: Trost


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