Mats Gustafsson and Craig Taborn – Ljubljana (2017, Clean Feed Records)
Listen [first track, youtube stream]
This live meeting between Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafsson and American pianist Craig Taborn at the 2015 Slovenia Jazz Festival is both brooding and frantic, yet remains a transcendent affair. The opening scrapes on the piano’s inner workings on “The Eyes Moving. Slowly,” quickly give way to some coarse and droning lines by Gustafsson which more closely resemble an oscillator on an old synthesizer than a reed instrument. Taborn dives into the fray and the two riff on one another, strangling the chords and notes as they escape from their respective instruments. Around the 3:30 mark, Taborn’s piano playing begins to take off; shortly thereafter, the piano goes into full flight with Debussy-esque lines, tethered to earth only by Gustafsson’s pleading, vibrato-laden bursts. The duo dip on the Geiger counter as Gustafsson’s unrelenting playing, well, relents. Tabor’s melodies flirt with the upper-reaches of the stratosphere, before Icarus’ wings burn up in the sun’s shafts of light and the tattered, windblown remnants coast back down to Terra Firma and humbly rake across the stage, back in the Slovene capital. Cecil Taylor would be triple e eee-lated at what happens next: the duo emulate a mouse running through a maze, seeking some savory fromage on the other side, with their instruments in a wholly Taylor-esque manner. Brusque and feverish as it may be, one still gets the impression that humor and joy underpin the duo’s gritty machinations. The second piece, “The Ears Facing the Fantasies. Again.” is far less interesting than the opener. The number begins with tentative piano stabs before Gustafsson sputters and squeaks to life, yelping out in between. Jarring at first, one cannot help but admire the Swede’s rhythmic scrupulousness. Gustafsson’s rough and tumble playing is nothing less than what one acquainted with his work would expect; his boorish tone and tempestuous approach perhaps make him an obvious heir to Peter Brötzmann, but alongside Taborn’s show stealing chops, Gustafasson’s playing feels a bit tedious. In all, the duo’s playing makes for an interesting —though certainly not quintessential— listen.