Personnel: Jimmy Ågren (guitar); Mats Öberg, Eric Carlsson, Robert Elovsson (keyboards); Morgan Ågren (drums).
Audio Mixer: Morgan Ågren.
Audio Remasterer: Morgan Ågren.
Recording information: Club Fasching, Stockholm, Sweden (06/1999).
Unknown Contributor Role: Johan Mauritzson.
Swedish keyboardist Mats Öberg and drummer Morgan Ågren and band pushed their Zappa-isms into jaw-droppingly tight and precise grooves at the 1999 Stockholm club date documented on Live, released by Cuneiform two years later. The 76-plus-minute album journeys through alternately straightforward and impossibly skewed rhythms, ever-changing keyboard voicings, and melodies and themes sometimes drawing from Zappa's gigantic influence but with a unique Mats/Morgan avant prog/fusion spin. When Öberg and Ågren hit the stage with bassist Tommy Tordsson, keyboardists Robert Elovsson and Eric Carlsson, and Morgan's brother Jimmy on fiery guitar, they were well prepared to wow the friendly crowd, and the home listener will be wowed as well. The band doesn't waste any time getting started. Dedicated to Lars Hollmer, 12-minute album opener "Hollmervalsen" begins "normally" enough, with a snaking synth melody and variations over a two-chord vamp that moves through some mildly tricky rhythmic changes but nevertheless remains situated in a gliding form of keyboard-heavy jazz fusion. Two and a half minutes in, the music explodes into a powerful 7/8 bridge before picking up the tempo and plunging forward with manic clavinet and wah-wah-infused funk. But this is all just a minute-long precursor to the ridiculously off-kilter lunacy of the track's central portion, a panoply of stuttering rhythms nearly mimicking a skipping CD player as man becomes machine and the Mats/Morgan Band transforms into a fusion facsimile of the Bang on a Can All-Stars interpreting Louis Andriessen.
Live's funky jamming does suggest that the musicians are human beings after all, but the album's layered and contrapuntal interludes are nevertheless executed with such accuracy that the likes of Philip Glass and Steve Reich almost seem sloppy in comparison. The herky-jerky theme of "Ta Ned Trasen" is strongly Zappa-esque -- although fractured into abrupt unexpected inflections -- before the tune morphs into a rolling jumble of crazily percolating sounds that wreak havoc with the rhythmic thread. Later on, after the band settles into a more conventionally escalating jam, Öberg swivels from wah-wahed to squawky to toylike to flat-out uncategorizable in the wild array of voicings deployed during his keyboard solo. Throughout Live, Öberg is positioned in the center of the stereo field as he flies high, dips low, glides, and funks it up, trotting out one crazy sound after another while the other keyboardists deepen the album's immersive mix and the Ågren/Tordsson rhythm tandem punches on and on. Öberg begins his "Jigsaw Variations" solo with a Middle Eastern flavor over the band's hypnotic, ever deepening groove; after a popping solo spot for Tordsson, a tinge of Zawinul creeps into the keys during "Guardian Pitch," before the tune stokes the fusion flames higher and segues into "Paltsug," 31 seconds of pure Zappa. As the head-spinning experience of Live approaches its conclusion, the cartoony stops and starts in "Banned Again" bracket jams that burn hot enough to make the glistening vibraphone-voiced follow-up "Igloo" seem like a calm respite, despite its speedily swinging pace. ~ Dave Lynch