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Tarfala Trio: Syzygy

John Sharpe By

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A quick glance at Wikipedia reveals a bewildering number of definitions of Syzygy, the name of the third offering from the Tarfala Trio, comprising English master bassist Barry Guy and the Swedish pairing of saxophonist Mats Gustafsson and drummer Raymond Strid. Two meanings stand out as being particularly apt: the first, referring to a straight-line configuration of three celestial bodies; and the second, a term used by the psychiatrist Carl Jung to mean a union of opposites. While the former doesn't need too much explanation given the illustrious back histories of Guy and Gustafsson in particular, the latter is not so obvious. But much of this sets strong appeal comes from the tension between those two poles: the cerebral machinations of the bassist contrasting with the earthy visceral bite of the reedman.

Having first convened in 1992, the trio has only recently reactivated, with this concert recording from Belgium in November 2009 proving that there remains ample unexplored territory to justify resurrection. Spread over four expansive LP sides and a single sided 7" EP, the three men cover an astonishing dynamic range, from blistering intensity to almost imperceptible timbral ping pong, wedding the passion of Albert Ayler to European improv.

Gustafsson—mainly on tenor saxophone rather than his customary baritone—nonetheless discharges his insistent phrases in a deep gruff tone, fraying at the edge, always on the verge of erupting into vocalized screams. Between crescendos he matches Guy with plosive keypad popping and whimpering yelps, but also shows a tender side expressed in a subdued, world-weary lyricism, which comes as a cooling balm after all the pyrotechnics. Guy maintains momentum through a dizzying array of resonant twangs, koto-like plucking, and rasping abrasions, all delivered with a hyperactive swooping attack. One of the few criticisms is that it would be even better were Guy higher in the mix. Undergirding both are Strid's klangfarben exercises, his tumbling outbursts sounding like someone emptying out a box of tools onto a wooden floor—rarely rhythmic, though occasional roiling.

Each piece evokes the product of relaxed interplay between people who know where they are going but are less concerned by how or when they will arrive. After a series of peaks and troughs, "Broken By Fire" culminates in a meditative coda of bowed bass harmonics, tolling cymbals and breathy drawn out tenor melodicism, while "Lapilli Fragments" slowly accumulates density, before finishing in a lurching asymmetric pulse. However "Cool In Flight" is the pick of the set, featuring powerful free jazz spiced by a lengthy virtuosic bass solo. Most likely the encore, the title track, compresses an equivalent narrative arc into the space of six minutes, moving from the incremental addition of clattering percussion, arco swipes and skittering saxophone to flurries of activity, then a period of reflective calm before a final passage of screaming frenzy, an entire sonic universe in microcosm.

Track Listing: Side A: Broken By Fire; Side B: Lapilli Fragments; Side C: Cool In Flight; Side D: Tephra; 7" EP: Syzygy.

Personnel: Mats Gustafsson: tenor sax, alto fluteophone; Barry Guy: bass; Raymond Strid: drums.

Title: Syzygy | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: NoBusiness Records


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