Swedish Azz, Vienna Echoraum, 28 February 2010

Fascinating and highly unusual evening of not-quite-free jazz from ace Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, three of his fellow countrymen and Viennese ringer dieb13 (Dieter Kovacic). The deal here is a contemporary take on Swedish jazz of the 50s and 60s, transplanting that music’s strong melodic lines and sense of lyricism into the context of improvisation and electronic soundscaping. It could have ended up as a right old mess, but in the event it was a thoroughly convincing performance, due in no small part to the exhilarating urgency of Gustafsson’s saxophone work.

In marked contrast to the long, sweeping improvs we normally see from Gustafsson, these pieces were short, tightly focused and – at least in part – notated. The saxophonist took the trouble to introduce each piece, carefully and humorously introducing the composer and his place in the history of Swedish jazz. It was clear that the group love this music and were there, more than anything else, to pay homage to it.

Judging by the intentness with which Gustafsson, tuba player Per-Åke Holmlander and vibraphone player Kjell Nordeson were studying their music stands, the notated elements were important to the overall structure of each piece. As a result, the pieces tended to begin steadily, with the warm tones of the vibraphone bringing colour and light into the room. It wasn’t ever long, though, before the group ceased to rely on their sheet music and ventured into the realm of pure improvisation, with Gustafsson’s sax playing as wild and torrential as it is in The Thing and Sonore. Taking the occasional break from this vein-bursting activity, he manipulated various bits of table-top electronics to produce clouds of unforgiving noise. Kovacic’s own interventions on turntable and electronics unfolded slowly and unnervingly, while Nordeson’s vibraphone weaved miraculous patterns around this stormy weather.

I still don’t get the point of that missing J, though.

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