July 16, 2018
James Blood Ulmer with The Thing
Trost TR006 CD
Rune Grammofon RCD 2197
Should there ever be an Olympic contest for most ferocious Jazz saxophonist, then Swedish tenor, baritone and bass saxophonist Mats Gustafsson would certainly be a contender for the gold medal. A generation younger than Peter Brötzmann, but just as clamorous, the now- Austrian domiciled Gustafsson has spent the past two decades propelling strident tones in settings ranging from large acoustic ensembles to smaller bands which flirt with electronics and electric instruments. Two of the saxophonist’s most frequent affiliations are with two trios: Fire, filled out with Fellow Swedes bassist Johan Berthling and percussionist Andreas Werliin; and The Thing, where he hooks up with two Norwegians, bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and percussionist Paal Nilssen-Love.
Although the frenetic The Hands show how violently Gustafsson can play if he wishes, Baby Talk is unusual since The Thing is in a way the backing band for one of the founders of so-called Punk-Jazz, American guitarist James Blood Ulmer. The latter is also a direct-to-disc concert recording while The Hands’ seven tracks are broken up with electronic feedback and blurry oscillations as well as pre-recorded samples of speech and speeches. There are passages however on Baby Talk where the quartet moves past electric Jazz-Rock to Blues inferences. Yet, in contrast, “I Guard Her to Rest. Declaring Silence,” on The Hands, is a rare instance of Gustafsson on tenor saxophone turning his growls and groans to considered vibrations as subtle drum beats and acoustic slap bass lines join to create near-balladry.
Concentrating on baritone or bass saxophones elsewhere on the CD, Gustafsson slurs , smears, blurts and blasts with appropriate energy, pushing aside the field recording mumbles and blurry wave forms for steely narrations. “Touches Me with the Tips of Wonder” is a long-lined instance of this, when the saxophonist’s curved note splay off Werliin’s ride cymbal and drum pitter-patter; while “Up. And Down” is shaped alternately by Berthling’s buzzing and bopping repeats on electric bass strings and saxophone scoops that haul out renal cries, as electric drones and sampled voices gurgle underneath. Although protracted electric bass riffs mixed with choked and stuttering high-pitched reed notes dominate the extended “To Shave the Leaves” with instance of unsurpassed technical exploration from each player, the shorter “Washing Your Heart in Filth” is more expressive. With the rounded bass notes as continuum, the drummer’s rugged and shattering rhythm patterns set up one part of the equation, with the saxophonists shrieking split tones thrust to the foreground to complete the exposition.
Taking into account muddier live sound, the three tracks with Ulmer are dominated by the guitarist’s thumping and hammering and are more chromatically oriented. Although the guitarist’s experience runs from recording with Big John Patton to Ornette Coleman, here his finger-style licks bring out the grittiest snarls from the saxophonist, with Nilssen-Love’s often approximating a Scandinavian-Delta shuffle. Still at points Gustfsson appears to be blowing for the sake of noise-making since Ulmer’s string noodling often lacks the fortitude to take the lead, and the others hang back. The first track may be called “Interview” for a reason
All in all, the most representative track may be “High Yellow”, where plucked bass, popping drums and crunching guitar notes intersect enough so that Gustfsson’s subsequent split-tone solo has enough ballast on which to extend the exposition further into abstraction. As the others move into the groove with emboldened squeaks, strums, and stretches, the spark that should have fired up the whole session isn’t extinguished for almost 10½ minutes.
While all six players get to exhibit their skills throughout both CDs, Fire’s and Gustafsson’s more direct playing creates a more positive impression than his and the other trio members ‘unexpectedly reticent response to Ulmer’s presence.
Track Listing: Hands: 1. The Hands 2. When Her Lips Collapsed 3. Touches Me with the Tips of Wonder 4. Washing Your Heart in Filth 5. Up. And Down 6. To Shave the Leaves 7. In Red. In Black 7. I Guard Her to Rest. Declaring Silence
Personnel: Hands: Mats Gustafsson (tenor, baritone and bass saxophones, live electronics); Johan Berthling (electric and double bass) and Andreas Werliin (drums, percussion and feedback)
Track Listing: Baby: 1. Interview 2. High Yellow 3. Baby Talk 4. Proof
Personnel: Baby: Mats Gustafsson (tenor and baritone saxophones); James Blood Ulmer (guitar); Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (electric and double bass) and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums and percussion)