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Mats/Morgan Band: Live

Dave Wayne By

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Keyboardist Mats Öberg and drummer Raoul Bjorkenheim—Bill Laswell—Morgen Agren—known as much for their musical brilliance as they are for their devotion to the music of Frank Zappa—are at their hyperactive best on this remastered recording from Stockholm's Club Fasching in 1999. Six pieces by Ågren and five by Öberg comprise this all-original set that shows quite a bit more variety and showmanship than might be expected from a pair of former child prodigies immersed in the world of strange and difficult music.

Öberg and Ågren were on their way to becoming household names in their native Sweden. They'd already collaborated with both Frank and Dweezil Zappa, and Ågren even had his own television show, Trum, a couple of years later. In fact, several of the tracks on Live—"Hollmervalsen," "En Schizophrens Dagbok," "Min Hast," and "Etage A41"—were revisited on Trum, played by the same band.

At this point, the Mats/Morgan sound was mostly centered around its namesakes. Even Morgan's brother, guitarist Jimmy Ågren, gets only a few brief features, though his solo on "Etage A41" is certainly enticing. Öberg's solos, throughout Live, are wondrously unlikely mashups of classical, avant-garde, gospel, and jazz. Though he possessed a fully mature style at this point, his sound has roots in George Duke's keyboard work from the early '70s—both with Zappa and on solo LPs like The Aura Will Prevail (MPS, 1975). Ågren is a percussive marvel, making oddly syncopated patterns in odd time signatures flow and groove like the simplest 4/4 pattern.

Ågren's composing on "Hollmervalsen," "Etage A41," and "Jigsaw Variations" contains a dose of highly rhythmic minimalism of the sort espoused by composer Steve Reich. This is a bit ironic, as Zappa was no fan of minimalism. These pieces feature dizzying polymetric and polyrhythmic phrases, often in odd time signatures, that are repeated with a near-obsessive attention to detail and dynamics. It's an attractive tension-building approach, albeit one that's used almost to excess. Still, the band loosens up during Öberg's amazing solos, particularly on the irresistibly funky "Guardian Pitch."

The Zappa influences are most evident in the melodic content of Öberg's "Ta Ned Trasan," "Min Hast," and "Igloo." Here, the band shows its lyrical side a bit, while executing oddly accented, dissonant, nearly impossible to play phrases and turnarounds with effortless grace and panache. The reactions throughout Live also suggest that the audience is literally hanging onto every note. A jazz-rock fusion marvel over a decade ago, the Mats/Morgan band has subsequently gone from strength to strength. Recent recordings reveal a more organic approach to music-making, and one less concerned with musical mathematics. Öberg's somewhat surreal vocal stylings appear more often, and there are more contributions from Jimmy Ågren and bassist Tommy Thordsson. Still, Live proves that fusion can be as entertaining as it is mindboggling.

Track Listing: Hollmervalsen; En Schizophrens Dagbok; Ta Ned Trasan; Jigsaw Variations; Guardian Pitch; Paltsug; Etage A41; Min Hast; Banned Again; Igloo; Kintornen.

Personnel: Mats Oberg: keyboards; Morgan Agren: drums; Tommy Thordsson: bass; Jimmy Agren: guitar; Eric Carlsson: keyboards; Robert Elovsson: keyboards.

Title: Live | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Cuneiform Records

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