Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Mats Gustafsson - Impropositions (Phono Suecia 1997)

Phono Suecia 1997


A brief interlude from my extensive and rather time-consuming Favourite FIlms list - a task I can't ever seem to get around to completing partly because I end up watching half the films I'm trying to write about and constantly changing my mind about what should go where and partly because I just don't have enough free time. Perhaps I should give up sleeping altogether. One of my new year resolutions was to slowly reduce the amount of sleep I had to give me more time to do more important things, but it's something I'm still working on.

Anyway, I should move on to the reason for this post. One of the things I love best about rain is the ability it has to hold my attention for long periods of time just looking through a window upon a framed world gradually becoming soaked in water. This gazing can be misinterpreted as daydreaming, but that would imply that my mind was wondering elsewhere and not really thinking about the rain before me and that isn't true - well most of the time that isn't true. So what does that have to do with Mats Gustafsson? Well, listening to Impropositions is a bit like watching the rain - the process is slow, almost meditative, there is a beauty about it that isn't immediate and it takes a while to fully appreciate the complexity and the beauty behind that process.

Impropositions bears a striking resemblance to John Butcher's Resonant Spaces of last year - there is an emptiness which lingers within a loosely defined space as notes scrape out of Gustafsson's various instruments (Soprano, Baritone and Tenor Sax, Alto Flute, Flageolet and his own specially made Fluteophone which comprises of a mouthpiece attached to a flute body). What I imagine as I listen to Gustafsson's complex patterns and harmonies is a large room, at first silent until water begins to drip through the cracks - the first drop, splash, ripple emphasises the silence and shortly another follows and then another in a sequence that reminds me of the end of Tarkovsky's Stalker as the three men reach their destination. Notes then pour out and every now and then explode as Gustafsson pushes a big breath of air right through the instrument. At times it sounds as though Gustafsson is fighting with his instruments. At others he seems to step back and let long notes hang suspended in the air.

Compared with two of my other favourite Saxophone improvisors - Evan Parker and John Butcher - Gustafsson's improvisation through advanced circular breathing and technical prowess rather more disturbs than seduces the listener, often opening up the space around you only to suddenly close you in, trapping you in a powerful jarring section that dissects the fragility of the preceding silence the same way a brief spell of hard, heavy rain, blown by a gust of wind crunches against the window. It's something that certainly requires patience to appreciate, but when you're in one of those observant moods it's a real pleasure to listen to something so spellbinding.


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