Saturday, June 11, 2016

Earshot Jazz presents Mats Gustafsson's The Thing & Mats Eilertsen Trio with Harmen Fraanje and Thomas Strønen at Poncho Hall and The Royal Room: June 22 & 28


Again like in 2014, Seattle's Earshot Jazz organization has insightfully culled from Vancouver International Jazz Festival's expansive global program of all things Jazz, including a set of trios from the cutting edge of the Scandinavian scene. It's a rare west coast opportunity to hear the purveyors of this sound, informed as much by the fifty years of European Free Jazz, as the equally kinetic influences of post-Punk, Noise Music culture and by degrees the more tempered, "Explorations of Krautrock and it's Kosmische Fringe". Johannes Rød's recent, "Free Jazz and Improvisation on Vinyl 1965-1985", published by Norwegian vanguard imprint Rune Grammofon, traces independent Free Jazz and Improv labels between 1965 and 1985, from the beginning of ESP-Disk through to the ascendant digital formats. With some 60 labels are covered in the volume, and forewords by Mats Gustafsson and label founder, Rune Kristoffersen, there are few better single introductions to this particular brand of what The Guardian's Richard Williams calls, "Norwegian Blues". The significance of the ECM label to the extended Scandinavian scene and it's embracing of Classical, Jazz, Improvisation and Experimentation, can't be overstated. Dana Jennings "ECM: Albums Know that Ears Have Eyes" for the New York Times mines the ensuing four decades following those detailed in Rød's chronicle. Another significant marker of in "The Sound of Young Norway" came in the form of ECM sister label's 150th release, The Quietus hailing the farseeing benchmark of graphic and sonic synergia that was, "Rune Grammofon: Sailing To Byzantium". At the epicenter of it's players, Nordic Council Music Prize recipient Mats Gustafsson has carved out a space central to connecting the Scandinavian scene with the larger global Improv and Out Rock cultures. Playing and collaborating in and out of the studio he's done more than hold his own in duo and large ensemble lineups with luminaries like guitar legend Derek Bailey, saxophone colossus Peter Brötzmann and extended technique and electro-acoustic pioneer, Evan Parker. Gustafsson has also found contemporaries at the bleeding edge of their respective genre zones outside of the Jazz world. Japanese polymath Otomo Yoshihide, songwriter and musique concrete composer Jim O'Rourke, and the foremost American underground rockers of the 1990s, Sonic Youth, are among their number.

Marking his 50th birthday with sets by The Thing, Rune Grammofon compatriots, Fire! and comrades in arms from the global Free Jazz scene including Ken Vandermark, Paul Lovens and Christof Kurzmann, this month Trost release a document of the incendiary celebrations as the "Peace & Fire" four disc box set. Gustafsson known for his dramatic wielding of the bass and contrabass saxophones, his command of the oversize lumbering horn, and it's lower register delivering the sort of weighty, dense notes that evoke the thunderous resonance of foghorn diaphones at sea. Scattershot with short truncated upper register phrases and showers of overtones that cut through the tide of low frequency swells. This same kind of invigorating, fiery, at times beguiling playing was heard on the occasion of his bandmate and centerpiece of the contemporary Scandinavian scene, drummer Paal Nilsen-Love. Memorable performances in both Seattle and the Vancouver International Jazz Festival in various settings over the past half-decade, including last year's hours-long explosive exhibition of Nilsen's Large Unit hosted by Earshot. Later this month Earshot brings Gustafsson with his central duo of Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and Paal Nilssen-Love to the Wayne Horvitz founded, The Royal Room in a lineup with Thomas Johansson's Cortex. The following week at Cornish Poncho Hall, another central trio of the Scandinavian scene playing in a more understated meditative vein, bassist Mats Eilertsen's eloquence and sensitivity is matched by pianist Harmen Fraanje and the soaring moodscapes of Food's percussion and electronics wing, Thomas Strønen. Their sound is a more timorous, searching affair than the sonic incursion of Gustafsson and company. Central to it's fabric are piano and bass studies in rhythm and texture that circumnavigate the orthodoxies of piano trio playing, with Strønen's drumming acting in eloquent counterpoint. The trio's recordings for the breakthrough indie Hubro label assemble what Jazzwise called "contemporary European jazz of the highest quality, in it's weave a minor galaxy of young stars”, including associates from ECM's highly regarded Tord Gustavsen Trio.
Photo credit: John Kelman