(Smalltown Superjazz)

The label sticker says “new studio blowout with The Thing engineered by Steve Albini”. A perfect summary for Bag It!, the edition in my hands containing an additional CD with a 30-minute improvisation besides the original seven tracks. Mats Gustafsson plays alto, baritone and slide saxophones, Ingebrigt Haaker Flaten and Paal Nilssen-Love shape a roaring rhythm section as per the norm. Both Gustafsson and Haaker Flaten utilize live electronics, taking possession of a stereo channel each.

The electronics constitute indeed a main factor of this record, a murky stratum of underlying unintelligible frequencies placed in the mix whenever the occasion arises. The Thing is essentially a showing of muscle, and the three don’t delude in that sense: swinging for the fences, Gustafsson erupts with tireless honks and almost illogical-sounding garbling of beyond-the-body phraseology, utilizing the core substance — which include “covers” of artists as diverse as Duke Ellington and Åke Hodell, passing through The Ex and Albert Ayler — as sheer pretexts for repeatedly igniting street fights. As the poison-discharging rhythmic disintegrations of Haaker Flaten and Nilssen-Love spill over, the three exchanging lethal blows while letting out cathartic cries, the listener feels excited at first, then something in the back of the mind creeps in.

And that “something” is the hesitation in calling this a must. In truth, the record makes me think about a heavyweight gifted with monstrous power but whose approach to the fight does not incorporate a plan B in case of need. This album sounds as a collection of furious fusillades alternated with huff-and-puff pauses in which the musicians look for fresh ideas like oxygen, not always finding them, ultimately recurring to further desperate combinations who appear lacking a little lucidity as the time elapses, in search of a Hail Mary blow that never comes. For instance, one might be staggered by the pure violence exhaled by the potent riffage and persisting ferocity of 54 Nude Honeys’ “Drop The Gun”. Still, after twenty minutes or so of similar dynamic formulas, the brain determines that alternatives should exist even in such a brutal binge. In this regard, the bonus material comprised by “Beef Brisket (For Ruby’s) is satisfying enough, the players trying different trajectories although sailing virtually the same waters.

When all is said and done, Bag It! is a good outing in terms of vigour — not that we had doubts — yet rather uniform as far as improvisational sparkle is concerned. To remain in the pugilistic environment, The Thing are lucky to retain the belt via a disputed split decision.

 

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