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Saturday, October 12, 2013

Mats Gustafsson Round Up

By Martin Schray

Really, Mats, I am starting to hate you. Who do you think you are? Don’t you have any pity with other musicians who want to sell their stuff as well? How many albums have you released this year? It feels as if there were 67 (or so). And the batch of duo albums with Thurston Moore, Joe McPhee, Christian Marclay and Eye, which were announced for early summer, have not even been released yet (you told me that it is going to happen in autumn). It would help if some of the new releases were of bad quality – but no, as if you were king Midas everything you touch turns to gold. The announcement that you are going to start your own label for The Thing actually terrifies me because you said that you wanted to re-release all albums by The Thing on vinyl. As if the new stuff wasn’t enough! Have I mentioned new albums by Fire! and the duo with Ken Vandermark? No?

Okay, enough irony. Of course I love your music, I could die for it. I don’t hate you, but my bank account definitely does.

Swedish Azz: Presents Erik Carlsson & All Stars Vol. 1 and 2 (Not Two, 2013) ****

When I saw Fire! lately Gustafsson referred to this music as “Swedish jazz classics from the future“ but with Swedish azz, which was founded by him and Per-Åke Holmlander in 2009, he actually wants to remember, appreciate, honor and update the Golden Age of Swedish jazz of the 1950s and 60s. People like Lars Gullin, Jan Johansson, Bernt Rosengren, Georg Riedel, Lars Werner, Berndt Egerbladh and Per Henrik Wallin were inspired by the American West Coast Jazz, by musicians like Charlie Parker, Chet Baker and Stan Getz, and included elements of traditional Swedish themes and rhythms into their compositions which was unique in the European jazz scene at that time. Swedish azz’s music uses these compositions and puts them in a contemporary context putting it through the mill of live electronics and free improvisation without forgetting to pay these tunes respect.

Swedish azz consists of Mats Gustafsson (saxes) and Per-Åke Holmlander (tuba), Eric Carlsson (drums), Dieb 13 (turntables and electronics), and Kjell Nordeson (vibraphone) and if you want to check what the notion of the band is, you have to listen to Lars Farnslöf’s “Över Stock Och Sten”, the first track of the album. After a tender intro (with an already spooky underlying vibes sound) the atmosphere changes with the increasing of the pulse and the quite aggressive presentation of the theme. Gustafsson tears the song almost apart, his sound is almost brutal, the breaks are really harsh, but it remains a jazz piece - until Dieb 13’s electronics put it over the edge. For a long moment the track is pure noise, they enjoy getting lost in pure chaos before they finish it with the tenderness of the beginning. This track alone is worth the whole album!

“Du Glädjerika Sköna” by Jan Johansson (the title quotes a line of the Swedish national anthem) cannot quite compete with this extraordinary beginning, it is a vehicle for Nordeson and Holmlander whose hectic solos take turns.

The influence of Swedish folk music is most obviously recognizable in Berndt Egerbladh’s “Umepolskan & Nybyggarland“ which starts with a theme based on a traditional melody before it gets lost (the melody actually vanishes) and crude horror soundscape noises take over. The theme comes up again and the tuba tries to hold it while the vibes and the sax fly like kites over it. As in the first track the band picks up the theme in the end to finish it.

The most unusual track is “Mäster“, a Borje Fredriksson composition. It is highly fragmented, almost a collage of many different elements, and especially the spoken word samples are difficult to adjust to. On the other hand there are beautiful sax/tuba passages as well - but in the end this track cannot quite compete with the others.

Swedish azz is neither a marginal Gustafsson project nor is it merely a pun playing with the derivations of the words jazz and ass. It is a beautiful reference to his and Holmlander’s roots.
Swedish Azz’s Presents Erik Carlsson & All Stars Vol. 1 and 2 is available as a double 10-inch.

You can buy it from

Although this is an older clip it gives you an impression of what the band sounds like:


Mats Gustafsson and Didi Kern: Eissalon (Live) (Rock Is Hell Records, 2013) ****

Eissalon is the German word for ice-cream parlor and the fact that the recording took place in Vienna in January 2013 when the streets are full of snow and the temperature is mostly below zero gives the location a completely different meaning. What is even more interesting is the fact that the parlor is tiny, which increased the intimacy for the audience to a maximum extent.

Mats Gustafsson and drummer Didi Kern used the location to celebrate the publication of the latest edition of Philipp Schmickl’s magazine “The Oral”. I was not familiar with Kern until I heard this record but he has been part of the Vienna improvisation scene for quite some time and he has already recorded with Weasel Walter and performed with Heaven And.

From the very beginning the two musicians are at top speed, Gustafsson plays feverish wild and chopped-off riffs, which are supported by barrage of crazy clicks and clacks, he is rather the howling saxophone dervish at work in this recording.

Kern is a drummer in the Paul Lovens and Günter “Baby” Sommer tradition, his drumming is both muscular and subtle, rumbling and delicate at the same time. He uses all kinds of stuff to extend the possibilities of his drumkit, live he is said to whistle and play various other simple instruments which makes me think of Han Bennink.

“Ein Eis” (an ice-cream), which is the name of the track, rocks formidably, especially the second part is duo free jazz and funk noise par excellence. If you like “I love it when you snore” by Gustafsson/Nilssen-Love you are definitely right here, it is music to empty cheesy rock bars with. For ice-cream parlors in winter it is the perfect music to bring the place to the boil.

Eissalon is only available in a single-sided vinyl edition, it is limited to 222 copies. Unfortunately, it is not the whole 35-minute-set they played but just a 20 minutes excerpt.

You can buy it from the label:

Paal Nilssen-Love & Mats Gustafsson: Con-Gas (Bocian, 2013) *** ½

Regular readers of this blog already know that Mats Gustafsson is a vinyl freak, if he could he would mostly release 7-inches. This duo with one of his favorite partners in crime is a double 7-inch and the new thing is that you can hear Paal Nilssen-Love on congas only (and Gustafsson on slide and bass saxophones).
The result is a very intimate session, both leave their mannish playing behind and concentrate on very subtle interaction.

The first A-side - “Satans Fogsmuts” - is a dark introduction with typical Gustafsson honks, while the flipside “Mutants Sass Fog” shows the duo in a tender dialogue in the tradition of Gustafsson’s Birds trio (with Raymond Strid and John Russell). “Evil Nelson” is an unruly ride, the two alpha dogs fight with each other before they come together at the end of the track, which is the most beautiful moment of this recording. The flipside “Enliven Loss” closes the recording with a lesson in sound exploration, very quietly and tentatively, it’s my favorite track here.

The music was recorded on February, 14th, 2013 (is it a mere coincidence that this was my 50th birthday or does this have a deeper meaning?), by Martin Siewert at Garnison7 in Vienna.

Con-Gas comes in white and black vinyl and is limited to 300 copies. 

It’s not a must-have but you get another, interesting perspective on Gustafsson’s and Nilssen-Love’s work.

Dieb 13/Mats Gustafsson/Martin Siewert: (Fake) the Facts (Substance, 2013) ****

This 7-inch was released for Record Store Day 2013 and presents a finger exercise of Mats Gustafsson on bass sax, Martin Siewert on guitar and Dieb 13 on turntables and cigar box.

“The Fake” is a rough track in the tradition of Gustafsson’s collaborations with Thurston Moore or Jim O’Rourke, brutal and harsh electronic shredder with an icing of guitar feedback and sax spittle.  The flipside track “The Fact” is a beautiful beast which presents Gustafsson and Siewert meditating over bubbling along electronic noise.

If you are interested in this kind of music I would recommend the trio’s excellent full album of the same name (Editions Mego, 2011), this 7-inch is also rather for collectors or Gustafsson maniacs.