Thurston Moore and Scandinavian jazz trio The Thing have a longstanding association that predates the demise of Moore’s main gig with Sonic Youth.
The Thing’s de facto frontman, saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, recruited Sonic Youth entire as the kernel of the group that recorded his ambitious composition Hidros 3 for Smalltown Supersound, in 2004. When The Thing played Øya Fstival the next year, Moore guested: the set was released on DVD as part of The Thing’s ‘early years’ retrospective Now and Forever (Smalltown Superjazz, 2007). And in 2012, Gustafsson and Moore co-hosted two nights of improv at London’s Cafe Oto.
So Live (The Thing Records/Trost) is part of an evolving story. It documents Moore once again guesting with The Thing, and back at Cafe Oto, on 10 February 2013.
The set begins with the guitarist sound-stippling, and he’s soon joined by Gustafsson’s lowering baritone sax. Gustafsson favours the big horn throughout, a decision complimented by Ingebrigt Håker Flaten’s choice of electric bass. But it’s Paal Nilssen-Love who engages Moore right from his first stomp into distorted sound, while Gustafsson steps back, only to re-enter with a raw, braying tonality as Håker Flaten’s bass thickens the sound into a viscous maelstrom.
There’s a peak of sorts seven minutes in, when Nilssen-Love lays down a rolling barrage and the others buckle under its impetus. But there’s no easing back. Gustafsson plays a series of even lung-bursts, then Håker Flaten takes over with an insistent, thick and grimy bassline. Moore tries to corrode it, backs off when Gustafsson bolsters, then comes back freestyle.
A more dramatic change of pace comes after ten minutes, when Nilssen-Love settles into a backbeat of sorts, Gustafsson and Håker Flaten lock into a riff which Moore embellishes while simultaneously building a wall of turbid sound by stacking effects. The Thing are peculiarly adept at such melding of free music and muscle-bound riffage, but Moore’s textures add another dimension.
At fourteen minutes there’s a breakdown, leaving Moore alone to counter Nilssen-Love’s roiling percussion with jagged blasts of feedback. Again, it’s Håker Flaten’s muscular bass that instills purpose and momentum, driving the performance to a forceful conclusion. Gustafsson riffs away, constantly strafed by guitar, and briefly bonding with Håker Flaten on a bass melody that ties the piece up nicely, as Nilssen-Love comes in for a controlled landing.
That first twenty minutes has been titled “Blinded by Thought”. The next and last 12:10 is “Awakened by You”, which starts in abstract guitar soundings plus what I initially took for clarinet, but is actually, I think, Håker Flaten’s bass (a Laswellian touch). Nilssen-Love accents the mood with gong hits, and Gustafsson lays down a slow, suppressing layer of baritone melodicism. That mystery bassline then shapes up beautifully in melodic counterpoint – the others momentarily step back, allowing it space to develop.
When Moore’s guitar reenters, revving in the background, Håker Flaten momentarily abandons that line of melodic development to engage in a frictional meshing of strings, but, again, it’s his locking onto a level thread that calls to Gustafsson’s baritone for reinforcement, and for Nilssen-Love to stoke up another free rhythm. Before long the quartet are powering along, full-bore locomotive, powering through a muscle-binding constriction to a coda of sorts, in which the quartet slip into a play-out groove with an R&B feel. While Nilsen-Love is fairly swinging at times toward this endgame, Moore colours in the sparks firing out of the collective grind.
Moore’s guesting with The Thing on “No Crowd Surfing” from that 2005 Øya set is comprehensively knocked into a cocked hat by this one, in which he’s much better integrated. “Awakened by You” is as good as anything else The Thing have recorded. And a large part of the credit must go to the often overlooked Ingebrigt Håker Flaten.
Mats Gustafsson baritone saxophone; Ingebrigt Håker Flaten electric bass; Paal Nilssen-Love drums; Thurston Moore electric guitar.
But Live from Trost Records via Bandcamp.