I’ve been listening to Mad Dogs for three days straight, and I’m still giddy and disorganized in my thinking about it. My mind gets pulled into ruts when I try to find some clear expression of the music it contains. Sometimes I feel as though clichés are the only way we can get everyone sufficiently close to a piece of music. At least, they’re what we struggle to stop returning to when we brush up against the limitations of language, especially when faced with music that really connects. I’ll only let one really easy one go for you: embarrassment of riches. Five discs and over four and half hours of music captured at the 5th Krakow Jazz Autumn Festival in 2010. Calling this the Barry Guy New Orchestra is sort of misleading, but forgivably so. “Small Formations” is offered as a qualifier, and the smallest formations on display are as small as they get: solo sets by Agustí Fernández and Mats Gustafsson. It may just be that the New Orchestra name is the easiest rubric to jam the musicians of Mad Dogs into, though they all certainly interface in a world much more expansive than that.
You see, there’s a great thing that happens when the New Orchestra is broken down into small subsets: you get all kinds of other high-profile, well-received groups like the Parker/Guy/Lytton trio, the Tarfala trio, the Gustafsson/ Fernández duo, Fernández /Guy duo, and on and on (see full list of line-ups below). What makes Mad Dogs such a resounding success is that any of the five discs could easily have stood as a solid album on its own: the restless clatter of Parker/Guy/Lytton, who claim the entirety of the second disc; the absolutely balls-to-the-wall fourth disc, which features a surprisingly emotional set by the Tarfala trio, followed by a reprise of Parker/Guy/Lytton, this time with Fernández added; or the wide-ranging third disc, which features Hans Koch and Per-Åke Holmlander with a subtle dual percussion backup, a beautiful duo with Maya Homburger and Lytton, and the truly critical mass of Fernández and Gustafsson, who build to an almost unbearable crescendo.
This is not the world of microsound or the quiet smears of instruments and electronics that mark more recent branches of improvisation. This is the physical, acoustic collision of virtuosity and musical ingenuity, the raw synergy of musicians recognized as masters of the form. There’s an urgency spanning across these discs, as though Mad Dogs is making a case for the very legitimacy of free improvisation itself. Intentionally or not, the set is presented in an expanding fashion, building in both size and intensity, launching with the dull, muted thuds of Fernández’s solo piano set and culminating in a cathartic orchestral blowout with an octet whose bombastic density would make Varèse blush. In between, all manner of duos, trios, and quartets make their showings. Especially interesting is the opportunity to contrast the three different sax trios present throughout (Parker/Guy/Lytton is a whole different beast than Gustafsson/Guy/Strid).
In László Krasznahorkai’s The Melancholy of Resistance, the defeated musicologist Mr. Eszter, distraught at the fraud of equal temperament (which fakes the elegance of pure tuning), decries that the “world […] was too full of the noises of banging, screeching and crowing, noises that were simply the discordant and refracted sounds of struggle, and that this was all there was to the world if we but realized it.” It may well be that the world can be heard in bangs and screeches and crows; however, not all are the product of struggle. Some arise from the joys of cooperation, exploration, innovation, even downright Dionysian celebration and excess. These are the bangs and screeches of Mad Dogs, and they are a rallying cry for a world (or at least music) we can be proud of.
Agustí Fernández (solo)
Agustí Fernández/Barry Guy
Mats Gustafsson (solo)
Johannes Bauer/ Per-Åke Holmlander /Hans Koch
Evan Parker/Barry Guy/Paul Lytton
Trevor Watts/Johannes Bauer
Hans Koch/ Per-Åke Holmlander /Raymond Strid/Paul Lytton
Trevor Watts/Barry Guy/Raymond Strid
Maya Homburger/Paul Lytton
Agustí Fernández/Mats Gustafsson
Mats Gustafsson/Barry Guy/Raymond Strid
Agustí Fernández/Evan Parker/Barry Guy/Paul Lytton
Evan Parker/Paul Lytton
Trevor Watts/Herb Robertson/Hans Koch
Agustí Fernández/Johannes Bauer/Raymond Strid/Trevor Watts/Herb Robertson/ Per-Åke Holmlander /Mats Gustafsson/Paul Lytton
Buy at Instantjazz.