Review: Mats Gustafsson’s Fire! Trio with Christian Marclay at Café Oto

Mats Gustafsson and Christian Marclay
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2013. All Rights Reserved

Mats Gustafsson’s Fire! Trio with Christian Marclay
(Café Oto, 13 March 2013; night 1 of a 2-night residency by Fire!; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

Mats Gustafsson is the consummate left-field collaborator. He seeks out the like-minded with a missionary spirit and secures sonic conversations that have no truck with genre boundaries. His duo with Christian Marclay at Café Oto, discreetly balanced and inspired, was a case in point, and complemented the rich territory he’d mapped out in power-drenched style with Thurston Moore at the same venue last September.

Gustafsson ducked and jived between fluorescent cricks, clicks, bloops and heaving blasts, as he coaxed his unique language from his fluteophone (a flute with a reed mouthpiece), then his signature hefty baritone sax, describing lightly balletic curves in the air as he played, grinning and grimacing to articulate the intensity in pauses between passages.

Marclay, in response, hovered studiously over two vintage record decks, commandeering his LPs as both sound sources and physical objects to engineer an impressionistic backdrop of windy gusts, crackles and stray muted orchestral samples. The duo’s blend of echoes and coincidences was distilled to a melodic clicking of saxophone keys before stoking up to a rampant roar with ear-splitting screeches and a final intuitive fade.

The subtlety of the duo’s dialogue was extended in the next set with a gutsy aplomb when they were joined by the indomitable rhythm section of electric bassist, Johan Berthling and drummer Andreas Werlin, who completed Gustafsson’s trio, Fire!

Gustafsson’s passionate passages on tenor summoned up the spirits of Ayler and Coltrane with strident immediacy. His eerie interventions on electronics introduced a mood of lo-fi inflection, picked up by Werlin’s restrained, chattering brushwork, the remotest of recorded piano and violin fragments from Marclay, and a hypnotic, single note locked groove carved out by Berthling.

Fire!, in the final set, came uncannily close to the feel of an early Pink Floyd live performance – circa Interstellar Overdrive – with their raw, acoustic beats and wavering electronics. The weighty, wailing baritone took on a Brötzmann dimension, the rhythm section paid unspoken homage to Can’s repetitive mantra, and in a final manic spree, Marclay returned to the side of the stage and masked singer, Thomas Öberg from Swedish indie cult band, Bob Hund, crashed a chair to the floor, jumped on to a table to theatrically harangue the audience, and added softly distorted vocal asides to the mix, much to Gustafsson’s, if not the entire audience’s, amusement!

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