The Thing

She Knows …
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When Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafsson organized The Thing band with Norwegians, bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love at the turn of the century the idea was play Don Cherry compositions. The idea widened by this 2001 second disc to play composed by Cherry, Ornette Coleman, Frank Lowe, James Blood Ulmer and McPhee, creating a Free Jazz repertory group. The session also began the trio’s long association with American trumpeter/saxophonist Joe McPhee.

Respectful and resourceful but also rugged, the quartet proves positively that Energy Music has a life beyond its first performance. Considering track one is a P.J. Harvey tune reconstituted with trumpet smears and baritone saxophone split tones, the disc also shows that almost any tune can be reconstituted with stirring improvisation. This is true too when playing “Going Home”, a hymn favored by Albert Ayler. Backed by Håker Flaten’s col legno bounces, McPhee’s tenor saxophone slurps low tones that presents the theme at midpoint, but begins and ends by deconstructing it into abstract fragments.

With connections to his ensembles, the spirit of Coleman looms over the session with many heads given his distinctive Blues-march feel. Meanwhile Nilssen-Love’s clipped beat is ruggedly chromatic, pushing forward beneath fruity overblowing from both saxophonists, who alternate themes with barely restrained tongue slaps and glossolalia. Linked to Håker Flaten’s electric bass slides and thumb pops the drummer sounds a reggae beat on Ulmer’s “Baby Talk” as Gustafsson pushes his baritone sax to altissimo squeals. Contrast comes from McPhee’s pocket trumpet flutters, which expressively echo with half-valve descriptions, challenging sax snarls on Cherry’s “The Thing”. Moving through gentle and grating expressions, CD ends with a hearty version of McPhee’s “Old Eyes”. Crackling vibrations from the rhythm section churn as the two saxophonists spew elevated and subterranean split tones, ending with a comprehensive concentrated climax.

Adding McPhee’s composition to the Free Jazz canon confirms The Thing’s stance as practiced knowledgeable re-interpreters. It also augurs for the band’s future musical paths.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: She: 1. To Bring You My Love 2. The Thing 3. Baby Talk 4. Kathelin Gray 5. Going Home 6. For Real 7. Old Eyes

Personnel: She: Joe McPhee (pocket trumpet, tenor saxophone); Mats Gustafsson (tenor and baritone saxophones); Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (bass) and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums)