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Mats Gustafsson: Share The Moment

John Sharpe By

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Reedman Mats Gustafsson resides at the center of a hurricane of activity: relentlessly touring, curating festivals and begetting record labels. He boasts one of most distinctive sounds in free jazz, combining the extremes of scalp prickling howls with adventurous exploration of minimalist tone and timbre. Although he's come a long way since his early days in a punk rock band in Sweden's Lapland, that anarchic energy is never far away, revealed in collaborations with luminaries from both the Old and New Worlds, such as reedmen Peter Brötzmann, Ken Vandermark and Joe McPhee, and guitarists Thurston Moore, Jim O'Rourke and Yoshihide Otomo.

One of the most enduring vehicles for his artistry is The Thing, a trio with Norwegians Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (bass) and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums), first established in 2000 during a series of concerts and a recording in Stockholm. The trio melds the German, British and American traditions of free music into a searing inferno which can miraculously birth songs from the annals of punk, rock or jazz. Originally, its repertoire comprised the music of legendary trumpeter Don Cherry, who spent many of his years living in the Swedish capital, and after which one of his compositions the threesome is named. In 2012, the trio released two very different albums which, between them, encapsulate the band's breadth of expression and provide an illuminating entree to the reedman's world.

Chapter Index

The Cherry Thing

All About Jazz: The Cherry Thing (Smalltown Superjazz, 2012) is a collaboration with vocalist Neneh Cherry, which garnered some rave reviews. It's a neat connection for a band named after a Don Cherry composition to join with Cherry's stepdaughter; how did that come about?

Mats Gustafsson: It was basically because me and Neneh had a mutual friend in Stockholm, where Neneh has had her base for many years. This guy, called Conny Lindstrom, who I ran the Crazy Wisdom label with, he has also been running a couple of clubs in Stockholm presenting creative music from whatever field. Amazing concept. He's never been interested in genre. So he's been presenting extreme Japanese noise as well as Norwegian singer/songwriting, and free improvised music in all forms. He's been a very old friend of Neneh's and is also a record collector. So I hooked up with him very early when I moved down from Lapland to Stockholm and he was working in the record shop. We connected immediately as he was commenting that I was buying Peter Brötzmann records.

It's always been a dream to get me and Neneh together in a project. It's been on the agenda a couple of times with different projects, but it never happened. Neneh got sick one time, [when] we had a recording scheduled. So we had the opportunity to meet in London, and that was after Neneh's husband and producer Cameron heard us live and was somehow impressed by something, I guess. So he set up, with Conny, this opportunity to meet in the studio in London. And we recorded three pieces without any arrangements or anything. We just did it, and it was the same feeling we had when we first played as The Thing in the studio back in 2000. We came together and everything just worked. So we said, "OK, fuck it, we need to do this again." We needed to make a record and then when it was done, we said we needed to make a serious tour with this. It's just one of those things; it needed some time for me and Neneh to find the right situation to work within. The Thing was my main group and so it was very natural.

AAJ: How did you choose the songs on the album?

MG: It's a very democratic group and we always take all the decisions together. We had some discussions, emails back and forth, sending out some stupid suggestions, some serious ones. And then, in the studio, we tried a bunch, and basically the ones we tried are the ones on the record. There are eight songs on the record, and another five that didn't fit that the label will put out as singles-or maybe as a separate LP. It's a really interesting process, bringing in favorite music, whether it comes from the free jazz tradition like the Don Cherry or Ornette [Coleman] piece, or whether it comes from garage rock or The Stooges or the Bristol scene Neneh has been associated with; it doesn't matter. It's what we do with the material. Also, six of the songs on this record are other people's pieces, but it was not intended to look like a cover record. They were just the songs we wanted to try. The next step for this Cherry Thing is to bring in more original compositions for the next album.

AAJ: Did Neneh write the lyrics to Don Cherry's "Golden Heart" and your piece, "Sudden Moment"?

MG: I wrote the lyrics as well. I did some attempts before, but in a way that was an interesting process. I write a lot, I write about music, but to write lyrics to songs like that is a different kind of process [laughs], but I found it very interesting as a challenge, and so I will try again and see if I can make any more sense. Neneh wrote the lyrics to "Golden Heart," and the rest are all songs that actually have lyrics.

AAJ: Ornette Coleman's "What Reason Could I Give" is one of the strongest pieces, and a great set closer. It comes from Science Fiction (CBS, 1972) , a very underrated album.

MG: I think it is a master album, one of his best. I think it is fantastic, but it's somehow overlooked, I think. If you talk about Ornette, there are usually other albums that people talk about first. But it's one of my favorite albums and it's also the album that Neneh puts first. I think she grew up with it, more or less.

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