It’s well known that The Thing took their name from a composition by Don Cherry, but Shake (Trost) might suggest they were so called after the pre-Christian Scandinavian custom of collective assembly as a means to air and adjudge issues of collective concern. The eight previous trio recordings by The Thing has its own character, but Shake shakes things up and breaks things down, so that each player’s qualities are attested by collective affirmation.
You’re probably familiar by now with various other projects in which the trio’s members are key players: Mats Gustafsson in Fire! and Fire! Orchestra, in AALY Trio and recordings with Merzbow and Balázs Pándi, among many others; Paal Nilssen-Love and his Large Unit, a supreme vehicle for his own music, plus units such as Atomic and Scorch Trio, in both of which he played alongside bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten. It’s perhaps the collaboratively prolific Flaten whose compositions for Shake work The Thing in fresh ways.
Where Nilssen-Love excels at the conduction of free-flowing improvisation, Gustafsson’s pieces are sectional, marshalling the various forces at his disposal into oppositional or contrasting forces (witness his Hidros pieces, or those works for Fire! Orchestra). Flaten’s pieces, by contrast, highlight those forces’ interrelationships and intertexture.
“Viking Disco/Perfection” segues an update of Nilssen-Love’s “Viking”, from 2011 album Mono, into Ornette Coleman’s “Perfection”. The former amps up the original’s mix of throaty saxophonic anguish and muscular rhythm. Ingebrigt Håker Flaten prefers electric bass over acoustic contrabass, so the cut grips harder and drives more relentlessly. Gustafsson seems set on blowing himself hoarse until finding more lyrical direction in pursuit of Coleman’s “Perfection” (a relatively obscure composition, “Perfection” was given an excellent, straighter treatment by saxophonist David Murray in 1988).
“Til Jord Skal Du Bli”, the first of Flaten’s two pieces, is airily open structured but thematic, its brooding intro followed by a choppy, rough-hewn passage of minor bass/drums turbulence and an increasingly resolute final straight, for which the rhythm section fall in behind an increasingly stentorian Gustafsson.
Next up, a nod to the trio’s Garage sound with a cover of “The Nail Will Burn”, one of Robert Hampsom’s more succinct compositions for his alt-rock band Loop. This telling sticks close to the original’s lockstep pummel and riffage, Gustafsson’s direct, extra-emotive sax subbing for Hampson’s fx’d guitar. Another cover, a version of “Sigil”, centrepiece of Wyrd Visions 2006 album Half-Eaten Guitar, likewise remains true to the original’s ominous pace and mood—to precis Pitchfork’s review: “imagined Nordic music that intentionally has an ancient, dredged-up feel”—albeit Nilssen-Love’s gongs, Flaten’s double-tracked bowed and regularly walked bass, and Gustafsson’s ground-fog saxophony can’t help but amplify the menace latent in author Colin Bergh’s solo acoustic treatment.
Both “Sigil” and Gustafsson’s “Aim” sound more like Fire! music than previous Thing albums, which aimed for a concentration of something more Brotzmannian. “Aim” is Shake‘s centrepiece, its longest track at 13:15, and the only one to feature guest musicians. Gustafsson’s tenor holds the line while Goran Kajfes on cornet and Anna Högberg on alto sax play more freely, testing and goading the core trio’s driving, ever constricting impetus. The percussion carries the main weight while Flaten’s bass lines splinter, frizzling dangerously, but everyone pulls together, recalibrating for a gradual draw-down, tension transmuted into composure and filigree lyricism.
Nilssen-Love’s “Bota Fogo” is closer to the live Thing sound: Nilssen-Love’s freewheeling power grounded on Flaten’s rock solid insistency while Gustafsson’s sax smelts garage rock sonics in New Thing fire. The rhythm section knit and flex, allowing Gustafsson to nuance his soloing according to the moment’s dynamic niceties.
The album ends with a second Flaten composition, “Fra Jord Er Du Kommet”, which is unhurried and uncluttered, sinewy contrabass subtly but firmly connecting Nilssen-Love’s opening solo on gongs and brushed metals to Gustafsson’s ruminant outro.
That’s all for the CD, but vinyl and Bandcamp digital editions have four short extras: “First Shake” (01:54), “Second Shake” (01:41), “Third Shake” (01:42), “Round About Lapa” (03:18).
The Thing’s music always conveys full-blooded collective intent and tenacity, but Shake also opens things up a bit, unknitting what was previously knotted, trading just a fraction of that ferocious potency for stylistic variation and distinctive track-by-track ideation. Smart move.
Mats Gustafsson tenor & baritone saxophones; Ingebrigt Håker Flaten double & electric basses; Paal Nilssen-Love drums & percussion + (“Aim” only): Goran Kajfes cornet; Anna Högberg alto saxophone.
The Thing and Thurston Moore – Live.
Neneh Cherry and The Thing – The Cherry Thing.
Paal Nilssen-Love Large Unit – Erta Ale.
Mats Gustafsson, Dieb13, Martin Siewert Fake the Facts – Soundtrack.
Buy Shake via Substance.