October 21, 2017
Mats Gustafsson/Alfred Vogel
Blow + Beat
Boomslang BOOM 0491
A Quietness of Water
NotTwo MW 952-2
Transmogrifying poetics onto music is a discriminating task on the same level as creating a painting whose title describes concepts that may not be obvious. But Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafsson has conspired with his confreres here to use titles inspired by two widely different American poets. The five selections on A Quietness of Water, recorded with American trumpeter Peter Evans and Catalan pianist Agustí Fernández take their inspiration from Robert Creeley (1926-2005), who was associated with The Black Mountain School and who combined an academic career with tough poetics. Like a cultivated rose compared to a wild flower, Blow + Beat, seven duets with Austrian drummer Alfred Vogel, takes as its influence Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997), the quintessential Beat, know as much for his lifestyle as his verse.
While the Evans-Fernández set isn’t any more buttoned-down than the one with Vogel, three voices call for a divergent strategy which in part could reflect the polemic of Charles Olsen, another Black Mountain versifier, who insisted that a poem’s improvised form should reflect its content. Not to extend the comparison into absurdity, but a common CD interface finds the horn players investigating a form by winnowing, whining and pinching their tones, thereby upsetting chromatic unrolling only to be maneuvered into cohesive forward motion by the pianist’s incessant repetitions with near player-piano reflections.
Like versifiers who create both serious and humorous stanzas, the pianist exposes other keyboard variants with his resilient and light-fingered introduction to “I Speak to Hear” and an unexpectedly mellow prelude to “Thoughts”. Like a mercurial Beat though, his thoughts then dynamic and end with slapped keys and plucked strings, the canny response to Evans’ puffing split notes into atoms, while Gustafsson’s fractal glossolalia eviscerate every texture for its entrails and extensions. In contrast the upshot of “I Speak to Hear” is defined by what sounds like gunshots of a mysterious origin which coupled with yells propels the pianist to add pattern splaying, chopping and turnabouts to note-swallowing lowing from Evans and percussive tongue-slapping from Gustafsson. With intractable cohesion defined the three come across as if they are totally balanced percussionists. The trumpeter’s thematic variations expressed in abstract, dissected altissimo lines makes the final “A Quietness of Water” anything but hushed however. Elephant-like snorts, exaggerated brass breaths and piano keys clattering at racing-care speeds finally blend, like the ironic yet edifying last line of a poem,
During a Los Angeles reading, Ginsberg and fellow Beat poet Gregory Corso described themselves as poets of absolute honesty and stripped naked to prove it. Although a drum kit and saxophone can cover many private parts, Gustafsson and Vogel perform a timbral strip on their disc. From the first sounds on “Solid Electric Glitter”, it’s evident that the two are as uncompromising in their expositions as naturists in their designated space. The reedist’s blasting honks matched by drum pitter patter and cymbal bomps often burrow into the rabbit hole of near-silence only to quickly re-enter the program louder and tougher than before. As symbolically naked as the poets without chordal or any sort of backing instrument, the two use every manner of snarls, snorts and peeps masticated through the reed plus rattles, smacks and strokes as fig-leaf-like covering for their briefer timbral excursions.
The tracks which define the alpha and omega of this approach are “Clean My House, and the subsequent coda-like “Hungry Hand Fading”. With the equivalent of a painter’s purposely limited brush strokes, the in two aurally sketch in as much needed light and darkness as is necessary for their art. A rare instance of minimalism, the former track is redolent with drum top buzzes and crackles plus barely-there baritone saxophone snorts and distant snarls. Sophisticatedly doubling each other’s expositions the program become more abstract and atonal as the jangles gets even fainter. Characterized throughout by a singularly refined display of how to position selected and unselected cymbals and drum tops so that brief rim shots or vinyl scratches convey elevated emotions, Vogel is seconded and challenged by Gustafsson’s buzzing reed whines. Revealing skill that conveys musical story telling with Janus-like dexterity with both loud and soft textures on “Hungry Hand Fading”, Vogel and Gustafsson don’t fade, but instead explode with all the stentorian emotions which had been stifled on the previous track. With saxophone multiphonics expressed at the top of his lungs by Gustafsson, matched by Vogel’s power pumping the two show themselves as capable as macro as micro gestures as Beat poets who created reverent and raunchy verse with equal skill.
With skillful collaborations like these expressed across the board, perhaps Gustafsson should convene his associates on these two CDs into one ensemble– heck even add a bass player – and see what masterful product results.
Track Listing: Quietness: 1. Once in a Rented Room 2. Persistent Hope 3. I Speak to Hear 4. Thoughts 5. A Quietness of Water
Personnel: Quietness: Peter Evans (trumpet); Mats Gustafsson (tenor, baritone and slide saxophones) and Agustí Fernández (piano)
Track Listing: Blow: 1. Solid Electric Glitter 2. Our Thoughts Split 3. Clean My House 4. Hungry Hand Fading 5. Get Your Head Run Over Again 6. Make Your Soul at Home 7. Blow and Beat
Personnel: Blow: Mats Gustafsson (tenor, baritone and slide saxophones) and Alfred Vogel (drums)