Bullet holes in corrugated metal. An exclamation point in place of a vowel. These signifiers set a colorful stage for this ad hoc assemblage of improvisers. The surnames are old familiars to seasoned followers of the European scene. Surprise manifests in the vintage of the set, over 15 years in the can. Turning back the calendar to December of 1994, drummer Paul Lovens and cellist Gunter Christmann, also the rare doubler on trombone, are still first-generation free improvisers with the reputations to match and well over a half-century of experience between them. At age 30, saxophonist Mats Gustaffson is the comparative rookie with just a decade or so as a professional to his name. All three men have past associations, but this concert captured within the spacious confines of an old power station in Hannover, Germany, constitutes their first meeting as a trio.
The set segments into eight sections, the first seven all parts of a single piece “Something More” while the last, “Enough is Not Enough,” acts as a coda of sorts. A photograph from the performance shows a stamping Gustafsson and seated Christmann in close proximity with Lovens positioned at some distance, though the recording effectively erases any spatial disparities. Gustaffson’s playing straddles the influence of two icons of the idiom on his horns, Evan Parker and Peter Brötzmann. Reed pops and other clipped breath expulsions alternate with grainy foghorn growls and fizzling multiphonic sputters. At this point in his evolution, the skew is decidedly toward Parker through circuitous, tension-winding tracts, though the visceral physicality of his German muse also erupts briefly on occasion, particularly when hoists his baritone.
Lovens ranges cannily over his modest kit, bowing cymbals to align with the arch arco strokes of Christmann at one juncture and setting about a controlled tumble of clatter at the next. Musical saw, frottoir and an assemblage of small percussion. Christmann’s command of pitch and placement is just as pronounced with string scribbles and harmonics threading through textured weave spun by his colleagues. His turn to trombone on two pieces brings out the trio’s (free) jazzier inclinations, though the music still slots reliably in the free improv column with line and rhythm commonly kept in a fractious state. Nearly 16 years hence, this kind of gestural and sound-based interplay may be old hat to some listeners, but as a snapshot into an earlier time that’s still not so long ago it’s a welcome multi-generational placeholder in these players’ careers. Perhaps more importantly, it’s an opportune sign that FMP is still alive and kicking.