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Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The Thing - Again (Trost Records, 2018) ****½

Again? Yes, The Scandinavian power trio revisits its roots on Again, the American fiery-spiritual free jazz of the sixties, as explored on its first albums - the self-titled debut album from 2001 (titled, as the trio name, after Don Cherry composition from Where is Brooklyn?(Blue Note, 1969)) and the second one with Joe McPhee, She Knows (Both released on sax player Mats Gustafsson’s short-lived Crazy Wisdom label). The Thing leave behind the brutal and immediate garage-active jazz pieces and covers of rock anthems, and relies on its extensive experience on free-improv meetings. Even the instrumentation of Again reflects on The Thing roots. Gustafsson sticks to tenor and soprano saxes (no bass sax, as featured on Fire!’s recent The Hands, not even a one blow on the baritone sax) and Håker-Flaten plays most of the time the double bass. Again fits perfectly the length of the vintage format of a vinyl, only 38-minutes long. Again, Fire!’s bass player, Johan Berthling, produced this album, after producing The Thing’s last studio album, Shake! (Trost/ The Thing, 2015).

But, naturally, The Thing, as a trio and and its three musicians, are wiser and more experienced. Gustafsson, Håker-Flaten and Nilssen-Love do have an encyclopedic knowledge about the history of free jazz and Nordic jazz, but none of them is going to rely on this glorious past. All of them are ambitious and bold composers, leading their own groups, some even orchestra-size outfits. Gustafsson’s 21-minutes “Sur Face” demonstrates this approach. This suite is still charged with the familiar, uncompromising, tons energy of The Thing, but is developed with no sense of urgency. Gustafsson’s sonic spectrum is more varied, moving freely from familiar, charismatic-rawl Ayler-ian blows to much more emotional, lyrical tones, sometimes even exploring delicate and surprising melodic, chamber jazz textures. Håker-Flaten and Nilssen-Love suggest an open yet massive, rhythmic support that embraces Gustafsson shifting themes and tones.

The cover of tenor sax player Frank Lowe “Decision in Paradise” (taken from Lowe’s album with the same title, Soul Note, 1974, featuring Don Cherry), offers an obvious connection to The Thing’s past, as well as to jazz spiritual legacy. Lowe has played with Sun Ra and with Alice Coltrane, and Gustafsson updates their spiritual calling to a call to action, telling his audiences that we all taking part in a fight against global stupidity. The Thing already covered Lowe’s composition, “For Real” on She Knows with McPhee. Again, McPhee joins The Thing with his pocket trumpet, and he and Gustafsson interpret beautifully the balladic lines of Lowe and Cherry, but patiently transform the original theme into an intense and fierce eruption.

Håker-Flaten’s “Vicky Di” suggests a link to The Thing’s recent past. Håker-Flaten takes the lead, playing a mean, nervous electric bass, Gustafsson alternates between the tenor and the rarely played soprano saxes, and Nilssen-Love, as usual, builds layers upon layers of of nuanced rhythmic storms, references even Brazilian music. Mid-piece, Håker-Flaten’s turns his bass into a generator of distorted, feedback-laden noises. This solo bass marks a return, again, to The Thing’s unmistakable, ecstatic rhythmic grind, leaving you breathless, but crying for more, much more from this right stuff.