Atavistic ALP 161CD

After more than 17 years together, the members of the Swedish-based GUSH now operates as three interlocking parts of one perpetual motion machine.

Occupied enough with other projects, the three – reedist Mats Gustafsson, pianist Sten Sandell and drummer Raymond Strid – bring a complementary desire for melded invention when they unite, as they did in Norrköping in 2003, for this, the band’s first-ever domestic release in North America.

Fully in command of all elements of its instruments, the trio elaborates its thoughts over the course of three long selections of almost 19 minutes, more than 13½ minutes and more than 26½ minutes each. Best known of the three is now Gustafsson, who plays soprano, tenor and baritone saxophones and fluteophone, alto fluteophone and French flageolet here. Veteran of large groups led by German saxophonist Peter Brötzmann and British bassist Barry Guy, as well as smaller bands with American saxophonists Joe McPhee and Ken Vandermark, Gustafsson is as easily at home in the United States as Europe. Inventive timekeeper Strid also works in Guy’s large groups as well as smaller bands. Sandell, not only improvises with Scandinavian players like saxophonist Fredrik Ljungkvist, but as a graduate of Stockholm’s Academy of Music nurtures a fascination for electro-acoustic and contemporary so-called serious music.

Note this most clearly during the more-than-26 minutes of “Rhomb”, as his voicing and touch vibrates from low to high frequencies and all stations in-between. Affecting the outlines of a fantasia that notwithstanding its freedom mingles comfortably with the others’ output, he’s the master of low-key – literally – variations, whereas the remaining two use volume to pump up their solos.

Starting with strummed piano chords, Sandell sensitively works his way from light plinks, to near toy-piano timbres, than finally to gentling harmonies that pull together Gustafsson’s and Strid’s strident outbursts. Meanwhile the saxophonist uses flattement, tongue-stopping, snorts and vocalized yelps to make his point – finally escalating to glossolalia. Midway in vociferousness between the others, the drummer sticks to rim shots and wood-block ratcheting to make his points.

When the reedist’s buzz-saw growls emanating as much from the body tube as the reed, the imperturbable percussionist turns to dedicated cymbal taps, bell ringing and hand drum accents. Then, since Gustafsson insists on displaying more tongue slapping than a child licking a large ice cream cone, Strid’s drumming becomes abstract and arrhythmic, allowing Sandell’s hyperkinetic cadenzas to encircle the saxman’s notes. Double-timing from both sides of the keyboard, the pianist’s polyphonic pulsations augment to clobbering and Strid joins in with a heavy hand and heavy foot on floor tom and hi hat. Returning to cymbal patting and drum stroking to affect an extro, the percussive gestures channel Gustafsson’s outpouring back to a variation of his initial, nearly inaudible intro.

Both other tunes function with similar strategy modifications. Gustafsson may unpack his fluteophones for unvarying intense single tones, yet he doesn’t miss a chance to alternate near silences with cat-like screams, bubbling split tones or rolling tongue stops. Sandell introduces lower-case arpeggios, highly syncopated right-handed actions or contrasting dynamics, as one set of fingers creates tremolo patterns and the other a contrapuntal line. Meanwhile Strid shakes his drum tree, fondles his smaller drum tops suggestively or batters them with full force as the occasion demands.

Familiarity has made GUSH the perfect three-headed improv machine over the past few years and NORRKÖPING merely gives North Americans a chance to catch up with the rest of the Free Music world.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Handpicked 2. Sava 3. Rhomb

Personnel: Mats Gustafsson (soprano, tenor and baritone saxophone and fluteophone, alto fluteophone and French flageolet); Sten Sandell (piano and voice); Raymond Strid (drums)