The Thing with Ken Vandermark and Two Bands & A Legend: Collaborative Furies

Eyal Hareuveni By

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Swedish/Norwegian power trio The Thing—featuring Mats Gusatfsson on saxophones and the colossal rhythm section of Ingebrigt Håker Flaten on bass and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums—like to enlist additional players who will bring further energy to their already dense dynamics. American saxophone hero Joe McPhee, or "the Legend" as the group refer to him, has been an honorary member since he played on their second release, She Knows (Crazy Wisdom, 2002). Over the years, the band also joined forces with Italian twin trio Zu, Finnish/American guitarist Raoul Björkenheim, and Japanese sound sculptor and guitarist Otomo Yoshihide.

Two new collaborations—one with Ken Vandermark, another as the supergroup Two Bands & A Legend—present The Thing at its best.

The Thing With Ken Vandermark
Immediate Sound
Smalltown Superjazz

The Thing's releases for Oslo-based label Smalltown Superjazz come with poetic descriptions of their raw strain of free jazz. After the aptly-named Garage (Smalltown Superjazz, (2004) and Action Jazz (Smalltown Superjazz, 2006) this new album borrows its title from Ken Vandermark's celebrated series at the Chicago Hideout club. It was recorded live on the first anniversary of Vandermark's series last April, and it was the first time that The Thing and Vandermark had performed together in the US.

The four musicians have played together regularly for more than a decade, in so many bands and incarnations (among them AALY trio, School Days, Peter Brötzmann's Chicago Tentet and Vandermark's Territory Bands, Free Fall and his duos with Nilssen-Love), that their level of communication is impressive. As the title suggests, this live recording offers burning and vibrant immediacy, flowing with power and energy, telepathic interplay and exemplary muscular, though not necessarily masculine, dynamics.

You can feel the shared commitment to explore and push forward the musical envelope, and the joy when they lock into a new theme, as Gustafsson and Nilssen-Love do on their tight duel on the end of the first part, or the methodical building of a new theme by Flaten on the second part.It continues with lyrical playing from Vandermark on the third part and then transforms into a percolating saxophone duel between Gustafsson and Vandermark, where Vandermark injects some funky riffs. Then it all reaches its inevitable climax on the fourth and last part, where Vandermark and Gustafsson, together on baritone saxophones, begin with a busy and nervous dialogue, that becomes bluesy when Flaten and Nilssen-Love join in, but ultimately explodes into an electrifying and spirited maelstrom.

Two Bands & A Legend Featuring Cato Salsa Experience And The Thing With Joe McPhee
I See You Baby
Smalltown Superjazz

This collaboration between Norwegian psychedelic rock quartet Cato Salsa Experience and The Thing with Joe McPhee produced a short EP in 2006 and a self-titled album early in 2007.

The EP offers three long tracks from the sessions for the self-titled album, but by no means these are dispensable extras. True to their mix of eclectic sources and influences, that cover almost anything from pop hits, through punk anthems and on to free jazz classics, the EP begins with McPhee chanting in a surprising leery voice the lyrics of Groove Armada's dance hit, "I See You Baby Shakin' Your Ass". But the drummers and bassists are the ones that turn this 13-minutes festivity into an infectious and irresistible, super-tight, funky stew that forces you to suspend any high-brow mental activity and surrender, quite happily, to the rhythm.

In a more serious tone, the ensemble offer an updated, powerful version of McPhee's seminal Black Panther anthem, "Nation Time." When McPhee recorded it at a December 1970 concert at Vassar College's Urban Center for Black Studies, he answered radical poet Amiri Baraka's question "What time is it?," and he and Gustaffson lead the ensemble with a similar frenzied energy to the original recording, saying again that it is always the right time to act and respond. The last piece is a beautiful cover of recently departed trumpeter Donald Ayler's "Our Prayer," that begins with gentle gospel-ish organ and inspired trumpet playing by McPhee, and gains further momentum and power until its ecstatic coda and a salvo of guitar feedback.

Visit Mats Gustafsson, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, Paal Nilssen-Love, Ken Vandermark, Joe McPhee and Cato Salsa Experience on the web.

Tracks and Personnel

Immediate Sound

Tracks: Immediate Sound-I; Immediate Sound-II; Immediate Sound-III; Immediate Sound-IV.

Personnel: Mats Gustafsson: tenor & baritone saxophones; Ingebrigt Håker Flaten: doublebass; Paal Nilssen-Love: drums; Ken Vandermark: tenor & baritone saxophones.

I See You Baby

Tracks: I See You Baby Shakin' That Ass; Nation Time; Our Prayer.

Personnel: Cato Thomassen: guitar, vocals; Bård Enerstad: guitar, organ, theremin, vocals; Christian Engfelt: bass, vocals; Jon Magne Riise: drums; Mats Gustafsson: tenor and baritone saxophones; Ingebrigt Håker Flaten: double bass, electronics; Paal Nilssen-Love: drums; Joe McPhee: tenor saxophone, pocket trumpet, vocals.


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