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Agusti Fernandez & Mats Gustafsson: Critical Mass

John Eyles By

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For a duo, pianist Agusti Fernández and saxophonist Mats Gustafsson are capable of producing a huge dynamic range and variety of sounds. At one extreme Gustafsson can generate the same kind of intensely hard-edged tone and energy as Peter Brötzmann (of whose Tentet he is an occasional member) or Ken Vandermark (another Tentet member). When, as on "Critical Mass 4:26, this is combined with a sustained torrent of chords from Fernández, the resulting music can induce the kind of adrenalin rush that gets people hooked on improv.

Right at the other extreme, Gustafsson produces some of the most minimalist sounds possible from a sax, the merest suggestion of breath on the reed or the barely audible percussive effect achieved by unblown fingering of the keys. Fernández matches this with minute percussive gestures inside the piano. On "Critical Mass 6:53, the pair operate for a prolonged period so near to the threshold of audibility that they could be awarded honorary membership in New London Silence! As these examples serve to demonstrate, the two complement each other perfectly throughout.

In addition to eight duo tracks, Critical Mass includes a solo feature for each player, wherein each showcases a range of techniques. On "Critical Mass 5:15 Gustafsson's include percussive fingering and staccato blowing producing split tones; on "Critical Mass 6:13 (yes, rather tiresome titles) Fernández gives a demonstration of prepared piano at its best.

However, as good as they are, the individual pieces serve most to highlight the synergy achieved by the pairing. This is amply demonstrated on the closing track, "Critical Mass 5:59, a fluid, high-energy simultaneous improvisation that brings the album to a dramatic and satisfying conclusion.


Track Listing: Critical Mass 5:58; Critical Mass 5:32; Critical Mass 4:26; Critical Mass 6:53; Critical Mass 4:46; Critical Mass 6:04; Critical Mass 3:20; Critical Mass 5:15; Critical Mass 6:13; Critical Mass 5:59.

Personnel: Agusti Fern

Title: Critical Mass | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Psi

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