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The Thing - Bag It!

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Artist: The Thing

Album: Bag It!

Label: Smalltown Superjazz

Review date: Jun. 22, 2009

Swedish reed-chewer Mats Gustafsson is probably bored to tears by now by the Brötzmann comparisons that so regularly greet his work with the Thing. Even so, the elder German icon remains a central pillar of reference, most noticeably through a gnarled horn language that balances macho bluster with wounded lyricism. As with past records in the company of bassist Ingebrigt Haaker Flaten and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, Bag It! continues the noisy advancement of “Action Jazz,” a high octane blend of classic fire music tropes and punk attitude, this time folding in channel-divided live electronics to bolster an already potent arsenal. “Hidegen Gujnaka Szelek,” a borrowing from the Ex’s songbook, kicks things off in bruising fashion as the three converge in the lurching aural equivalent of a Tohei Studios city-leveling monster. Flaten slathers on the fuzz as Nilssen-Love punches out a fusillade of pulverizing tattoos, Gustafsson laying down foghorn baritone blasts shot through with vein-bulging vibrato. It’s a gloriously unhinged opener and one that delivers an instant foundation for catharsis.

“Drop the Gun,” credited to the Japanese female punk outfit 54 Nude Honeys, finds the guys getting their surf on atop a tumbling reef-sharp beat, rumbling slap bass and distortion-weighted electronics. Gustafsson and Flaten most commonly use the latter element to approximate feedback-laced guitars, though on the gorgeous closing cover of Ayler’s “Angels,” Flaten dials up a fleet of whirring UFO effects presumably to reference the otherworldly saucers the composer claimed spotting shortly before his demise. In between these bookends, the trio hit a number of other stylistic notes. Gustafsson channels the great Swedish baritonist Lars Gullin on the sadness-framed title piece, also bringing Brötz to mind again in the steadily ramping emotionalism of its second half. The full bore assault spills over to “Snusvisan” via a tumult of crashing drums, hammering bass and caterwauling sax, while “Hot Doug” explores another slow build convergence in pathos-driven tension and texture, Gustafsson’s teeth-clenching legato tones vying with surging waves of electronics. Rounding out the set list, Ellington’s “Mystery Song” is barely recognizable in its newly acquired freebop rigging, as Gustaffson’s nearly blows the ligatures from his alto in atomizing the melody.

Those familiar with the Thing know what to expect, but the canny integration of electronics gives the band new ground outside the long shadow of their German progenitor.

By Derek Taylor

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