Click here to [close]

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Mats Gustafsson – Torturing the Saxophone (Corbett vs. Dempsey, 2014) ****½

In 2008 and 2009 Mats Gustafsson released two highly limited solo albums on the Italian Qbico label on which he pays tribute to two great masters: Duke Ellington and Albert Ayler. “Mats G plays Duke E” and “Mats G. plays Albert A.” were limited to 125 copies each, both are single sided pressings. The third album in this series is “Mats G. plays Gullin” which is released on the Sagittarius A-Star label in 2012. As you can imagine these albums have been out of print for quite a while and cost a lot of money on the second hand market, Thanks to Corbett vs. Dempsey they are available for a reasonable price on CD for the first time – and they even included a version of Ayler’s “Ghosts” which is not on the original LP.

This CD presents Gustafsson at both his most experimental and his most lyrical and especially his tender side is to die for. He purrs his way through Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood” and “Sophisticated Lady”, adding extended techniques like clicks and snaps which gives the compositions a disturbing character. The sentimental mood displayed here is also a tenuous one and the lady depicted is one without any make-up, you can see what life has done to her. “Come Sunday” is hardly recognizable, the melody is buried under the debris of click sounds, as if rained down on the original notes. Doing this the track becomes a completely different intention. It was Ellington’s comment on the church bombing in Birmingham/Alabama, where four little girls died. While Ellington's original is a spiritual which praises God's existence, Gustafsson's version is a lament, a political comment, torn and ugly. “I never felt this way before” and “Blue Goose” show Gustafsson’s extreme side, both tracks are put through the grinder of electronic effects, Ellington’s originals are far echoes in the background.

Interestingly enough, you are completely wrong if you had expected Gustafsson to go on with this  approach for his Ayler interpretations. “Our Prayer” starts with a musical box intro and then he takes over Ayler’s blues and gospel sound, he even intensifies it. You can literally feel that he is closer to him than to Ellington, this is the music of his heart. When he almost aspirates the notes of “Angels/Spirits” into his instrument, there is no question of torturing the saxophone, he is rather caressing it, even in the second part of the composition, when sounds become harsher and more disparate.

Lars Gullin’s “Danny’s Dream” then remains truly dreamlike but again there is nightmarish component (read a full review here).

The title of the CD comes from Robert Crumb, the famous comics artist and collector of old shellacs. Gustafsson sent the CD to him and Crumb’s puzzled response are the liner notes for the album. Crumb was obviously shocked by this music and he could hardly find words for it (“I was kind of shocked at what a negative, unpleasant experience it was, listening to it. I had to take it off long before it reached the end”). Poor Mr Crumb, how could you listen so hard the wrong way? How could you miss the beauty underneath? But reading his lines notes in which he expresses his confused feelings are just the icing on the cake of a great album.

Gustafsson is one of the few artists who can captivate an audience with a solo performance. If you go out and you want to pick only one of his many solo recordings, this will be a good choice.

Torturing the Saxophone” can be bought from Instantjazz

Robert Crumb's liner notes:


Colin Green said...

Martin, Ellington's "Come Sunday" was written in the 1940s, as part of his "Black, Brown & Beige" suite, although it's a song that's performed independently of the suite. It's Joe McPhee's performance of "Come Sunday" on "Red Sky" that's a memorial to the same event as Coltrane's "Alabama".

Martin Schray said...

Colin, I knew that "Come Sunday" was written in the 1940s, Colin. But I thought that Ellington released a later version which allowed my interpretation. The Columbia recording was released in 1958, which proves that you are right. I will correct that.

Colin Green said...

I've ordered this album on the back of your review. Rather cheaper than one-sided LPs (shrewd marketing from Mats).

Captain Hate said...

Thanks for this review and including Crumb's notes; I ordered the disc based on that and am thoroughly enjoying it as I'm listening to it for the first time as I'm typing this. I wonder who had the inspired idea to send this to Crumb who surely considers everything from bebop to be unlistenable noise.