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Review: Mats Gustafsson and Thurston Moore at Cafe Oto – 23rd September

Pat Thomas, Mats Gustafsson, John Russell, Thurston Moore. Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2012. All Rights Reserved

Mats Gustafsson and Thurston Moore with John Russell and Pat Thomas
(Cafe Oto 23rd September (day 2 of 2-day residency); review and drawings by Geoff Winston)


Mats Gustafsson and Thurston Moore go back at least a dozen years – performing and recording as Diskaholics Anonymous (with Jim O’Rourke) and under the Sonic Youth umbrella. Their unswerving dedication to confounding the predictable and to charting uncomfortable ground keeps their music as fresh and vital as ever, and in John Russell and Pat Thomas they found a couple of resolutely articulate, like-minded allies to complete their two-day residency at Café Oto.

Full-on duets and quartet sets ensnared a seam of musical and sonic ideas which catapulted around the room and off its walls with avowedly impolite insistence – but not without a sensitivity and lyricism blended in to the driven, monumentally uphill flow.

Occupying terrain carved out by Ornette’s Free Jazz, Brötzmann’s Machine Gun and Reed’s MM3, they scooped out a sharp, frantic dialogue that dived into tar-encrusted, muddy sound zones with agonisingly evocative associations.

Moore’s and Russell’s eerie reverb, slide guitar and acoustic clicks set out the stall for their tense opening duet, all rhythmic judders and jarring chordal strums, flattening the high notes to lend a clipped acoustic chime which serendipitously (and amusingly) misaligned with builder’s taps from the theatre next door.

Mats Gustafsson (soprano sax), Thurston Moore. Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2012. All Rights Reserved

Pat Thomas almost wrong-footed Gustafsson with his thunderous electronic mash to which the saxophonist responded by downing his sax and throwing in a visceral, like-for-like, electronic assault. Their toxic brew was industrial, anguished. Passages of dramatic drones and disturbance landed uncomfortably in the zones of war and torture, unleashing crashing electronic beasts and unremitting interference, reflecting the inhumanity of humanity.

In quartet mode to round off the first set, Thomas’s brightly fluttering piano allowed Gustafsson to throw the ballast overboard with elephantine jet bursts on baritone sax, which he swapped for soprano sax and crossed into perhaps an indirect tribute to Coxhill as the mood briefly switched from manic to lyrical. Russell and Moore traded intensely carcinogenic feedback and extruded fretboard squalls, with an overwhelming and riveting suggestion of the direction in which Hendrix might have been aiming, similar to Wadada’s live evocations of the spirit of Miles.

Pat Thomas, Mats Gustafsson, John Russell. Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2012. All Rights Reserved

After a short break, Moore and Gustafsson picked up the true noise mantle after sending out the lightest of insinuated notes. Playing the back of the fretboard, Moore used a metal bar on the strings to complement the accumulated stresses of Gustafsson’s electronics, releasing rippling swathes of raw amplified power. Intentionally severe, increasingly inward-looking, Moore sat hunched over the guitar before turning his back to the audience as they bounced guttural, power-drilling tirades off each other with Gustafsson in explosive, primeval form on baritone, fading out intuitively to put a delicate full stop to this dense, impassioned, out-at-the-edges drama.

‘Noise doesn’t get better than this!’ A spontaneous comment right at the end of this significant collaborative onslaught perfectly summed up the evening’s events.

Mats Gustafsson: baritone and soprano saxes and electronics
Thurston Moore: guitar
John Russell: guitar
Pat Thomas: piano and electronics

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