Review: The Thing and Toshinori Kondo at Café Oto

Toshinori Kondo at Café Oto
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2013. All Rights Reserved

The Thing and Toshinori Kondo
(Café Oto, 3 November 2013; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

Four o’clock on a Sunday afternoon is an unusual time for a heavyweight double bill, but at Café Oto it worked a treat, bringing out the punters in force and the best from headliners, Scandinavian avant-power trio, The Thing, and Japanese trumpeter and mainstay of the leading edge, Toshinori Kondo. This was a wicked concoction. A ‘Lazy Sunday Afternoon‘ was not even a remote possibility.

Kondo, who was in town to soundtrack the V&A’s Kansai Yamamoto fashion show (designer of Bowie’s stage costumes), kicked in with a devastating mash of trumpet and electronics, an extreme brew that took off from where Miles left off, soaring way out of the comfort zone, pushing dense strata of sounds to the limit. He pitched his silky brass fluency – not unrelated to Jon Hassell’s muted, dampened tones – against crunching pulses, crashes and ice sharp cracks. He sliced through his own delivery with scalpel-bladed ruthlessness, processing and reprocessing phrases, and flooded the room with a deeply vibrating bass heartbeat. It had the dramatic physicality of being swept up in the epicentre of a storm, but not without moments of calm – chatterings, hums, and harmonies – that would eventually give way to stratospheric, high-energy bursts. Tension and beauty rolled in to one.

Promoting their new label, The Thing Records, and new album, ‘Boot!‘, The Thing’s lethal combination of raw baritone sax, crashing cymbals and drum rolls, and high energy electric bass – blasted off at maximum pressure with a cover (according to saxophonist Mats Gustafsson) of Coltrane’s ‘India‘ that kicked in with a roaring riff straight out of ‘Jailhouse Rock‘. The secret of The Thing’s compelling momentum is their delight in taking the simplest of phrases and repeatedly elaborating and building out from its core structure in a tsunami wave of instinctive dialogues that they have finessed over the last fifteen years. Gustafsson pulled out phrases of bluesy rock and roll with the harsh sweetness of Earl Bostik’s rockin’ sax. Ayler’s marching band substrate surfaced in the percussive discipline that is second nature to Paal Nilssen-Love, and Ingebrigt Håker Flaten took inspiration from punk as much as from Ornette’s spikey deliberations in his soft-hued bass rampages.

Joined for ‘some spaceship trumpet’ (as Mats put it) by Kondo at the end of the set, it was as though an earth mover had met the Radiophonic Workshop. Sci-fi electronics, mutant brass warblings and an unremittingly heavy undertow put the seal on an extraordinary afternoon.

And it cannot go without remarking that every nuance was articulated with exceptional definition by Café Oto’s recently refined sound system – courtesy of James and John at the venue.

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