Personnel: Mats Gustafsson (tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone).
Recording information: Rosazul Estudi, Barcelona, Spain (06/30/2004).
Photographer: Caroline Forbes.
You know fireworks are likely to explode when Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafsson joins Spanish pianist Agustí Fernández for the sort of blowout that has all the makings of a legendary performance. There are few musicians boasting the raw power of these two giants of modern music who are capable of freely improvising collectively with such compelling results. Gustafsson lets himself go, using the many techniques that have made him the Scandinavian iconoclast for which he is known. Dipping into his arsenal of tricks, Gustafsson pulls all stops as he dips, sucks, blows, whimpers, and screeches, slicing through Fernández's dense clusters like a red-hot knife cutting a frozen ice cream cake. The two bounce off each other and egg one another on, but playfully so, not unlike two rough-and-ready gangsters cutting in style. What makes it all so fascinating is that you never know what is going to happen next, as the wealth of sound overwhelms with creative mass. It is not simply that Fernández reaches (literally) deep into the inside of the piano, plucking, strumming, drumming, and who knows what else, but he does it so gracefully that his rapid flights to the extremes simply seem natural. Meanwhile, Gustafsson might be noiselessly tapping the keys of the tenor sax or stuttering through the horn, or merely blowing (no, shrieking) through the horn with unmitigated ferocity. On "Track 3," he is so focused that the rafters shake, while on "Track 4" and much of "Track 5," he and the pianist are no more than a whisper. In a post-Coltrane world of jazz, it is sometimes easy to forget what it is that makes the music so exciting: its utter sense of wonder. Fernández and Gustafsson capture it, a glimpse of heaven if only for a short moment, and the results are enthralling, even enervating. ~ Steven Loewy
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