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Saturday, April 7, 2018

Mats Gustafsson Journeys with The Thing into Colombia

Mats Gustafsson. Photo by Peter Gannushkin.
By Sammy Stein with Mats Gustafsson

My good friend and free jazz advocate Mats Gustafsson has been somewhere he has not been before. A difficult thing for a musician who has taken free jazz to almost every corner of the globe but until now Mats had never visited Colombia. However, on 18th March he played in Bogota, Colombia’s capital with his trio The Thing. I asked him why Colombia and how the gig came about Mats replied, “We have been wanting to play in Bogotá for a long time.

We have a great friend in Austin, Pedro Moreno, who is from Colombia and he has helped Ingebrigt (bass player from Sweden who plays with The Thing) to go there before to play. It was high priority for us to go there and we were all very curious about the local scene there! We played Universad de los Andes on 17th march and the great club Matik Matik on the 18th March. They were packed with people and just a great atmosphere!”

Photo by Mats Gustaffson
I asked how many of The Thing went and whether the music was well recieved. (As a contextual aside, Latin America - where I am currently based - is an incredibly rich place for music of all kinds. People dance to almost any rhythm, there are 8 main types of music indigenous to the countries along with Frevo jazz in Brazil and other more localised musics. In Ecuador, next to Colombia, there is music everywhere, there is no getting away from it and people enjoy native music just as much as pop music – especially on the buses where pasado – which sounds like a donkey with a bad leg rhythm-wise- blasts out constantly. People come on the buses and sing of play for money and people burst into song in the oddest of places like in a classroom, the changing rooms at the pool – anywhere really. The jazz scene is growing but mostly of the swing type and cafes and restaurants offer meal and music deals where, due to the oddities of Latin America time keeping the band may start on time, there may be just one player with others joining over the session, or they may start late and involve most of the audience – you never can tell. So I wanted to know how free jazz fits in.)

I asked Mats whether the music was well received and any particular responses he noticed. He told me,  ”The Thing started its American tour in Colombia and continued afterwards with gigs in Milwaukee, Chicago, St Louis and at the great Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, TN. Matik Matik in Bogota is just a great club to play and the response was very immediate and very positive. With a listening and attentive audience, what can go wrong? We had a young audience of mixed gender. Very goooooood vibe all over!!!”

I then asked Mats if he found out anything about the scene in Colombia and he commented,   ”It seems to be a very young scene and the great thing for me is that they are really mixing different cultures of music in a very creative and natural way. Cumbia, free jazz, alt rock… improv…. It was all in there! Los Piranhas are a fuckin’ killer band! And we heard some really excellent sax playing and activities from ao. Maria Valencia! Killer alto sax! The band Mula really knocked me over. Especially the over-the-top great bass playing by Santiago Botero who is an absolute ACE player. Sensational!”

At a record shop. Photo by Mats Gustaffson.
Mats told me they secured a residency for 2019 so I asked him about that. He told me, ”Too early to tell, but we are talking about a week of activities, in October 2019. It will include workshops, seminars and concerts. Solo and with local musicians. This is something I really love to do. To check a - for me- unknown scene out and start building collaborations that can evolve in some more activities later. I have already passed on many contacts with Scandinavian musicians and hopefully we can start a pipeline of exchanges soon. Nothing is better (except hunting for rare vinyls). ” (for those of you who may not know, Mats is a self confessed discaholic with literally a cellar room stashed to the ceiling with vinyls. Part of any trip is a troll around the record stores).

I then asked Mats if he was going to play any other places in South America. He said, ”Again – too early to tell but my great Dutch agent has many contacts in South America – so we might try to hook up with some of them.”

Mats and I have had many discussions about the free jazz scene so I asked him how he felt about scene at the moment. We last wrote about this together in 2016 and also Mats came in on the book I had published in 2017 but I wanted to understand what he felt about the scene right now. Mats commented, ”There are way more active players now compared to say 3 years ago, especially in Scandinavia and also in other places.The trend seems to be staying. There is a huge hunger for creative musics and to blend different cultures and styles of music, trying to create some new things. It looks and sounds good. I’m optimistic.”

I then asked him about his feelings on all the different outlets for music – from radio shows, articles, live gigs, recordings and so on. What does Mats think? He replied without hesitation, ”Live music is it! Records are just an escape, but an important one. They and documents are important pieces of art but music should totally be experienced live. No question.”

So, if anyone is up for a visit to South America in October 2019 I can guarantee some great music will be there.