Recorded live at the 2011 Hagen Festen in Sweden, this meeting of experienced free improvisersSwedish saxophonist Mats Gustafsson and drummer Raymond Strid, and British guitarist John Russell is quite surprising. No muscular, fiery playing of reckless abandon, as is normally expected from the powerful Gustafsson in regular outfits such as The Thing, Fire! or The Swedish Radio Jazz Group; instead, Birds is spare, thoughtful, and under commanding control.
Maybe it was the naturally relaxed village environment of the festival, or the inspiration by author Tomas Bannerhed's novel Korparna (The Ravens) (Weyler förlag, 2011), from which the titles to Birds' two extended improvisations were drawn. It does not really matter, as these exemplary free improvisations are excellent lessons in collaborative listening, constant timbral search, minimal articulations and intuitive interplay.
Gustafsson primarily employs soprano sax on the longer opener, the 43-minute "The Earth As The Sun And The Ravens Are Watching." Though his playing is denser and often more emotional than Russell and Strids, the piece remains under control as it evolves. When Gustafsson picks up the baritone, his short blows and use of the saxophone keys sound more like a percussion instrument. Russell's abstractions sound more skeletal and cerebral, while Strid's minimal strokes on the skins of the drums and cymbals frame this patient interplay. The second, short improvisation "The Birds, The Fly As They Want, Don't They?" sounds more playful, but still follows the spare manner of the first one. All in all, truly a masterful meeting of excellent improvisers.
The Earth As The Sun And The Ravens Are Watching; The Birds, The Fly As They Want, Don't
Mats Gustafsson: soprano and baritone saxophones; John Rusell: guitar; Raymond Strid:
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