The Thing: Live At Blå / Mats Gustafsson: Catapult

Andrey Henkin By

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Last summer, this reviewer was first exposed to the Scandinavian group The Thing in the best possible way; he was run over by them. The trio, Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love (both Norwegian), played a brutal set at the Oslo club Blå as part of that city's Jazz Festival. Blå, Oslo's answer to Tonic, is The Thing's homebase and a new record documents a performance from there in June 2003.

The Thing
Live at Blå
Smalltown Superjazz

The Thing's impact on modern improvised music can be compared to that of Peter Brötzmann's trio on For Adolphe Sax (featuring Swedish drummer Sven-Åke Johansson, widely considered the country's first improviser). Gustafsson and Co. continue that tradition but bring a higher level of musicianship and a more diverse musical background. The two segments on the live album are medleys of three songs each, tunes by such "free musicians like Joe McPhee, Charles Tyler, Don Cherry and David Murray. Augmenting these are two songs from The Thing's other current interest, garage band music (old-style with Norman Howard and new school with The White Stripes).

There are all the violent shrieks and wails one expects from Gustafsson, the polyrhythmic, Paul Lovens-ian drumming of Paal Nilssen-Love and Flaten's updated Mingus style. But there also are enough quiet, almost introspective moments that highlight each musician's technical facility and make the louder portions even more forceful.

Mats Gustafsson
Doubt Music

Gustafsson, for all his brash screeching, is a particularly accomplished player with an amazing ability to create snaps, crackles and pops on his baritone. He has lung power to spare but also can tone down the wildness and use understatement to great effect.

On Catapult, Gustafsson confounds those listeners who know him as this generation's Brötzmann. His solo playing (this may be one of only two solo baritone records ever recorded?) is actually gentle and intellectual. Nine themes make up the record including tributes to Albert Ayler and Lars Gullin, folk themes and even two melodies written by Gustafsson's daughter.

What makes the disc especially interesting is the wide tonal range of the baritone and how that range is applied to Gustafsson's varied techniques. The music is not just melodic or harmonic; it is percussive and ambient as well. An improvisational master class.

Live at Blå

Tracks: Old Eyes; Haunted; Cha Lacy's Out East; Aluminum; Awake Nu; Dewey's Circle.

Personnel: Mats Gustafsson: baritone sax; Ingebrigt Håker Flaten: bass; Paal Nilssen-Love: drums.


Tracks: Memory of a specific Silence; Torparvisa; The Light; Catapult of Solitudes -to Paul Auster; The Nut; It is. Remember -to Lars Gullin; Flutter; Chance Illusions -to Paul Auster; Kungssången.

Personnel: Mats Gustafsson: baritone saxophone.

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