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Thursday, January 12, 2017

DKV/Thing Trio – Collider (Not Two Records, 2016) ****½

By Troy Dostert

Fans of the Thing and DKV Trios have been hoping for a joint project for a long time.  Despite the fact that these musicians have collaborated in various permutations on a host of recordings, the two trios had yet to appear together as a group on any records that I’m aware of.  We came close a few years ago with the outstanding Schl8hof, which comprised all of the DKV Trio (Ken Vandermark, Kent Kessler, and Hamid Drake) and two-thirds of the Thing (Mats Gustafsson and Paal Nilssen-Love), with Massimo Pupillo instead of the Thing’s Ingebrigt Håker Flaten on bass.  But here we have all six, and they are indeed in top form throughout.  This record gives us three extended, high-energy, in-your-face collective improvisations that manage to remain both fluid and open-ended yet at the same time grounded in addictive rhythms and grooves.  It’s just what we expect from each trio individually, of course, but with the “collision” between the two referred to in the album’s title we get even more of it.  And that’s cause for rejoicing.

The music was recorded live at Manggha Hall in Krakow in November 2015.  The crowd is barely audible (I can only hear the audience, very faintly, on a couple brief moments of the record), which is too bad, as it’s hard to imagine any audience sitting still or remaining silent during music this forceful.  I’m sure those lucky enough to see this performance were blown away by it.  From the opening few seconds of the first track, “Cards,” which charges right out of the gate, Vandermark (who plays tenor and baritone sax, as well as clarinet) and Gustafsson (who also plays tenor and baritone) provide a sonic blitzkrieg, with Vandermark’s penchant for short, jazz and funk-inflected phrases running up against Gustafsson’s irrepressible effort to push his instrument to the breaking point.

There are a few stretches of relative calm—but those often seem present merely for biological necessity, as Gustafsson and Vandermark save their physical energy for the next onslaught, which is never long in coming.  Meanwhile, Håker Flaten and Kessler complement each other perfectly in holding down the bass duties, consistently avoiding redundancy, sometimes with one going to arco while the other uses ostinato phrases to keep the pieces moving and to give them melodic direction.

And as for drummers Drake and Nilssen-Love, what can be said that hasn’t already been mentioned about their ability to combine freedom with rhythmic structure?  Each is a master at maintaining steady pulse and creativity, and to hear these guys side-by-side is a treat.  Like Håker Flaten and Kessler, they avoid cluttering the music, managing to stay in close rapport while making room for the other to contribute equally to the collective sound.

A special acknowledgment should be made of Rafal Drewniany, recording engineer for Not Two Records, who did an outstanding job documenting this performance.  Although I would have loved to hear more of the audience, one can’t fault the clarity of the music itself.  With the Thing Trio arrayed in the left channel and the DKV Trio in the right, it’s the perfect opportunity to hear the trios working individually and in tandem, and it’s easy to pick each musician out of the mix to hear their distinctive roles.  An especially fine recording for headphones!

A staggering, often exhilarating record: it’s wonderful to finally hear all six musicians together at the height of their powers.


Gennaro Z. said...

In my opinion, one of the best albums of 2016.

Colin Green said...

I have to say, one of the benefits of free music is that it’s largely free of audience noise, until the music stops. There’s no whistling, whooping, clapping along or shouting of inane comments. I went to see Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys some years ago, and had to put up with the bloke next to me singing “good, good, good, good vibrations” in my ear. I felt like pointing out that I'd paid to hear Wilson sing, not him, but he was bigger than me, so I said nothing.

Troy D said...

Well, we might have to agree to disagree on that, at least with respect to Vandermark/Gustafsson's "free" music, which often seems to invite an energetic, punk rock-type vibe from the audience. Take for example their *Live at the Glen Miller Cafe*, from a while back (1999): they're blowing the doors off at that gig, and the crowd is ecstatic (appropriately so, IMO).

Colin Green said...

I'm afraid I don't have that album, but whenever I've seen Vandermark play, the audience as been respectfully silent while he's playing, apart from applauding solos, and enthusiastic in their appreciation when he's finished the number. Sounds as if the album under review might be the same. The prospect of watching a load of forty-plus men - the bulk of the audience at most of the free jazz gigs I've attended - behaving like punks in front a similarly aged band, does sound pretty amusing, however.

Troy D said...

Maybe the Swedes are just different that way. The Live at Glen Miller Cafe is well worth getting, btw, if you can find it (it's long been out of print). I seem to recall it was my first experience hearing Gustafsson - and very memorable, to say the least.

Colin Green said...

Available as a CD on Discogs for £65.00 or as a download from Bandcamp for $10.00:

I have their other albums, so I think I'll go for the download.

Martin Schray said...

In general I support Colin’s view, I really appreciate the discipline of free jazz audiences (except the horrible clicks of the reflex cameras, especially in very quiet moments). I will never understand why people have to talk during concerts, it’s often very disrespectful - especially to the musicians (I just had a terrible experience watching Slapp Happy in Cologne, when more than half of the audience decided to talk very loudly and killed the atmosphere).
Then again I can understand Troy, sometimes it makes sense to let yourself carried away by the music. Listen to The Thing’s “Live At Blå“ when the audience goes berserk after 3.40 min. in their version of The White Stripes's “Aluminium“. Awesome! Or check out “Nonaah“, Roscoe Mitchell’s mind-blowing solo recording from the Willisau festival, in which the reaction of the audience is almost as interesting as the music itself.
“Collider“ is a great album, by the way.