Scandinavian free-jazz outfit The Thing is back with Again, released earlier this month. Consisting of Mats Gustafsson (sax), Ingebrigt Haker Flaten (bass), and Paul Nilssen-Love (drums), this trio plows through nearly 40 minutes of improv across three tracks.
Unlike some recordings of this ilk, The Thing offers a dense, active approach with all three members fully participating throughout the vast majority of the album. Particularly appealing is how they each seem to be playing independently from one another and yet their combined efforts still form a cohesive whole. Thus, Haker Flaten and Nilssen-Love take on lead roles despite most of the soloing ostensibly coming from Gustafsson.
The album opens with the 21-minute Sur Face, most of which is a Gustafsson showcase, featuring some of his more restrained playing juxtaposed with more aggressive lines from the rhythm section. After inclusion of a short solo from Haker Flaten, Gustafsson and Nilssen-Love join back for a downtempo and introspective interlude, which finishes as a drum solo. With 8 minutes left, the group comes back together, this time with Gustafsson playing in his more familiar and harsher outside style.
Decision in Paradise, an old Frank Lowe piece that was not particularly avant-garde, follows. The Thing stretches it out a bit, slowly ramping it up with chaos and unusual textures. Gustafsson overdubs on soprano and tenor.
Vicky Di rounds out the album with a solid slab of adrenaline highlighted by a monstrous distorted bass solo from Haker Flaten. Perhaps ironically, Haker Flaten and Nilssen-Love otherwise play in a more focused and complementary manner than they do on the other tracks. Over this, Gustafsson wails in a late Coltrane fashion.
The Thing is quintessential free jazz – this is the group that you would recommend to someone who is first exploring the genre as well as more experienced listeners. Another stellar release from this threesome.