me tell you... I’m trying to capture the fourth dimension of the
new-instant, which is so fleeting it no longer is because it has
already become a new now-instant, which also is no longer. Each
thing has an instant in which it is. I want to take possession of
the thing’s is. Those instants that elapse in the air I breathe:
in fireworks exploding silently in space. I want to possess the
atoms of time.
- Clarice Lispector, "The Stream of Life"
a select group of free improvising musicians, it’s possible to isolate
a style that deals in a particular way with the relationship between
energy, texture, and time. Of course, if you mention energy it seems
natural to immediately think of human powerstations like Cecil Taylor
and Peter Brötzmann — those momentum-sustaining heavy-rollers who
may turn to violence or volume to achieve full impact. And when
the idea of texture is discussed, it tends to conjure the so-called
"insect music" of ’70s British improvisers, in which bustling microcosmic
worlds were made out of vivid timbre and nutting noise.
the kind of musician I’m describing actively engages both these
spheres, injecting teeny-weeny sounds with thermonuclear power or
locating activation energy in the colors and surfaces of musical
materials. Somehow the key to this process, this mediation between
energy and texture, lies in the musicians’ attentiveness to the
manipulation of time, their wish, as Lispector would have it, "to
possess the atoms of time" — a transposition of matter and temporality.
This is accomplished through a seemingly impossible ability to simultaneously
listen for and snatch up the potency inherent in any given moment.
Or the next. Or the following. And so on. It can be sudden or it
can be gradual. It is nevertheless a seizure, a blink, an openness
to the once-and-future now-instant.
cadre of stylists I’m describing might be best exemplified in the
work of German trombonist (cellist and filmmaker) Günter Christmann,
British bassist Barry Guy, and German percussionist Paul Lovens,
as well as the British duo of vocalist Phil Minton and percussionist
Roger Turner. Christmann concentrates on the breakpoint between
breath minutiae and metallic blast, rustling aluminum mutes against
the bell or suddenly sounding an oboe reed into his mouthpiece.
With Guy, there is the explicit wish to find energy’s taproot; he’s
capable of turning a placid moment into a detonation, without fuss.
Master of the power/texture divide, Lovens takes the klangfarben
tradition into a craggy field of unexploded bombs, intensifying
the Webernian ethic of texture and timbre with enough TNT to drive
the Globe Unity Orchestra or to match wills with Stephan Wittwer’s
and Turner’s key — which is in fact the key to all who play this
way — is speed. From one millisecond to the next anything might
happen: tensions might flare sending sparks and shrapnel flying,
or a sudden calm might stop a careening passage in its tracks. For
players like this, abruptness and flow aren’t antithetical concepts,
but complementary utensils with which to dip into the stream of
life. In all these cases, to make such strategy work the player
must be an infinitely skilled listener and a bold opportunity seeker.
She or he must hook into what the other musicians are doing — even
if that means laying out altogether for some time — but must also
be eager to initiate.
is the tradition in which we find 30-year-old Swedish saxophonist
Mats Gustafsson. Born in the severe frigidity of Lappland, Gustafsson
has been a core figure in the active Stockholm scene since he settled
there years ago. His own groups include Gush, with keyboardist Sten
Sandell and percussionist Raymond Strid; Two Slices of Electric/Acoustic
Car, with guitarist Christian Munthe; the AALY Quartet with pianist
Per Henrik Wallin; and a trio with Lovens and fellow percussionist
Paul Lytton. He’s also a member of Georg Gräwe’s new quintet, plays
in various groups with Barry Guy, is a frequent member of Günter
Christmann’s ever-changing project VARI0, and likes to collaborate
with dance, theater, and poetry.
the aforementioned players, Gustafsson uses the now-instant as a
fulcrum between the materials and energies of his music. And speed
is of his essence. Whether he is playing his own mercurial "fluteophone"
(a mutant horn he created by shoving an alto sax mouthpiece into
a flute), or down at the other end of the sound spectrum on the
notoriously unwieldy baritone saxophone (which only a handful of
free improvisers have successfully used), Gustafsson has an uncanny
ability to precipitate impulsive interaction at lightning pace.
Where many improvisers are comfortable in stable dynamic zones —
if it’s loud and boisterous, it stays loud and boisterous; if it’s
soft and gentle, it remains so — he often finds a way to move from
as-pianissimo-as-possible to triple-forte and back in the bat of
by elder improvisers for his prodigious group skills, Gustafsson
has also developed a singular saxophone sound. No question that
he is part of the post-Parker (Evan Parker, that is) generation,
as evidenced in his combination of various extended techniques —
multiphonics, circular breathing, slap tongue — the extensive exploration
of which actually dates back to trick vaudevillian saxophonists
from the 1910s, such as Rudy Wiedoeft. But Gustafsson’s got a range
of tricks all his own up his sleeve, from multifarious vocalizations
(I like his lion-like growl best) to the heartstopping, brain-bending
outerspace ant sounds he produces on fluteophone. On baritone, he
has awesome control, making resounding low pops or sticking a tin
can all the way down the long bell to the U-bend to serve as a buzzy
mute. If you listen hard, you can hear a trace of his inspiration
Serge Chaloff in Gustafsson’s full exploitation of the big horn.
working on Parrot Fish Eye in October, 1994, during a week-long
stay in Chicago, the word that kept popping up in Mats’ speech was
"focus." That still rather vague term may come closest to describing
the qualitative difference between a decent improvised session and
one to write home about. The feeling was that, though there was
only a single concert performance with the trio with Gene Coleman
and Jim O’Rourke (on-the-job rehearsal), the one-day recording produced
a really remarkable level of focus. Especially delightful was the
way that Mats and Michael Zerang, who had never met, shook hands,
tuned up, and took off. Indeed, it was the sort of scary compatibility
one doesn’t dare hope for, especially in a first encounter.
is a mainstay on several Chicago scenes. He plays traps with the
Vandermark Quartet and has a duo with percussionist Hamid Drake
in which hand percussion is emphasized (especially Mesopotamian
frame drums). With his free improvising trio Liof Munimula (which
includes shortwave radio wizard Don Meckley and multi-instrumentalist
Dan Scanlan), Zerang deploys the same sort of spread out multiple
percussion setup he used with Gustafsson. The pair instantly connected,
much to even their own surprise. Listen to the way they construct
things together, punctuating and sometimes finishing one another’s
statements. It’s as if they become a single working entity, a strange
sort of clock: interlocking gears ticking, alarm bells ringing,
a sweep second hand marking swift time.
trios are of a very different nature — somewhat more deliberate
and conceptual sounding — though they too relate back to quick-thinking
energy distribution. Jim O’Rourke is a highly prolific improviser
and composer, well-known internationally for his guitarwork and
his part in the experimental rock ensembles Gastr del Sol and brise
glace. He’s also a super composer, who uses pen and paper as well
as tape and razor to realize his compositions. Long term mover and
shaker on the Windy City’s independent contemporary classical scene
and leader and prime composer for Ensemble Noamnesia, Gene Coleman
has also been steadily developing his approach to the bass clarinet
and its hidden harmonic mysteries. He and Mats make a versatile
reed team, especially in tandem with O’Rourke’s resplendent acoustic
guitar and extreme accordion.
As a verb or noun? Noun: center, reference, concentration, attention
or attraction. Verb: to make something clear. The clarity and centering
represented in Lispector’s fleeting meditation on time are crystalline
focal points. So is the music on Parrot Fish Eye. A flash
of instants provides the constantly shifting point-of-reference
and a place for concentration and attention. Lens music. Song of
the it. Focus.
this flash of instants never ends. Will my song of the it never
end? I’m going to end it deliberately, with a voluntary act. But
is continues on in constant improvisation, creating always and forever
the present which is the future. This improvisation is.
Lispector, "The Stream of Life"
Chicago, April 1995
||***(*) (3 1/2 stars)
Parrot Fish Eye, recorded on an early visit to
Chicago, is perhaps the most fun of all his records and might be the
easiest place to start with Gustafsson. There’s an almost
zoological feel to eight duos with percussionist Zerang, whistles,
chitterings and unidentified sounds creating an aura of animal-house
nuttiness. Five trios with Coleman and O’Rourke are more
stealthy in the way they unfold and, if Gustafsson is comparatively
reserved here, he and Coleman make an interesting “front
line”, if that term’s appropriate.
— Richard Cook & Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, fifth edition
knows what possessed Laplander Mats Gustafsson to force an alto
saxophone mouthpiece and a flute together, but it’s a shotgun marriage
that has borne remarkable fruit. Parrot Fish Eye quivers with the
squawk of his invention, his monster, the fluteophone: through it
he delivers a piercing stream of squeaks and percussive tonguework
with devastating rapidity. At volume, the high tones really hurt the
ears. More conventionally, he also plays soprano and baritone saxes.
Gustafsson is active in various Stockholm groups and counts German
pianist Georg Gräwe and bassist Barry Guy among his collaborators.
The latter connection seems particularly appropriate, as he shares
some of Guy’s bursting intensity and speed, not to mention building
on Evan Parker’s advances in extended technique. Parrot Fish Eye,
recorded last year in Chicago, has Gustafsson in action in two distinct
settings: a duo with percussionist Michael Zerang, and a trio with
bass clarinetist Gene Coleman and Jim O’Rourke, who plays guitar,
percussion and accordion. Of the two, the duo material is perhaps
the more exciting, with an uncluttered field allowing Gustafsson
to work more freely. Daring, tumultuous and virtuosic, when Parrot
Fish Eye says "play me", you do it.
The Wire, Issue 140, October 1995