Mats Gustafsson – ts, bs
The Thing’s music has the effect of an earthquake. Its explosive energy stuns and carries one to the state of trance. The sight of the trio dripping with sweat, the apocalyptic sounds bedazzle the audiences.
No wonder: The Thing finds its roots in music of such free jazz freaks as Albert Ayler, Don Cherry, Peter Brötzman and the likes. However in their improvisations the musicians reach the orbits of Duke Ellington, John Coltrane and other more reserved classics, and also cross jazz boundaries to reach the territories of The White Stripes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Lightning Bolt as well as punk domains producing a pungent cocktail of avant-garde rock, noise, punk and free jazz.
The Thing fuses the freedom of jazz with the controlled power of rock: the recognisable is being dissolved in a spontaneous and dark magma of improvisation. The result is pungent and quite frightful jazz.
Today’s Scandinavian improvised music celebrity was established in 1999 when the three musicians met to play their interpretation of Don Cherry tunes. Since then The Thing has grown into one of the most successful and hardest working free jazz trios around, traveling all over the world.
They have performed with American experimentalists like Joe McPhee, Ken Vandermark, Thurston Moore, Peter Evans, Jim O’Rourke, Japanese multi-instrumentalist Otomo Yoshihide, Swedish vocalist Neneh Cherry among other music luminaries.
In 2013, The Thing established their own recording label The Thing Records, which collaborates with Austrian Trost Records. The trio has released over ten albums. In 2011, it gave a concert in Lithuania.
Saxophonist and composer Mats Gustafsson is one of Europe’s biggest names on the music scene. In over three decades-long career he has established himself as a very powerful saxophonist, recorded a great number of albums with myriads of different groups and has somewhat reinvented the way of playing the saxophone.
The improviser writes music for solo saxophone, live electronics, ensembles and orchestras, sound installations, collaborates with contemporary dancers and visual artists, theatre companies and poets. In addition, he acts as a curator of the Swedish Concert Institute projects, an adviser for various festivals; has greatly contributed to the reestablishment of the Association of Free Improvised Music in Sweden.
He has enjoyed commissions by the Swedish Concert Institute, the Swedish National Radio, Umeå-based Norrlands Operans Symfoniorkester, Klangforum Wien Now and various other festivals and institutions. His compositions are played by Copenhagen Art Ensemble, Trondheim Improvisers Ensemble and Trondheim Voices, Peter Brötzmann Tentet and Thurston Moore Sonic Youth among other groups.
His name is associated with more than 20 formations. With various colleagues he has toured all continents.
Mats Gustafsson was born in Umeå, Northern Sweden. His first instrument was the flute, but by his early teens Gustafsson was playing saxophone as well. Around the age of 14, he put his saxophone mouthpiece on his flute to bring an instrument along on a trip, and since then has played this creation, the fluteophone, in addition to other, more standard reed instruments. In 1982, he got interested in improvised music and started collaborating with drummer Kjell Nordeson, who would later form the AALY Trio with Gustafsson.
Gustafsson moved to Stockholm in the mid-‘80s and formed Gush Trio with Sten Sandell and Raymond Strid. Later he met German drummer Paul Lovens, who became Gustafsson’s partner in various NU formations.
His international recognition was prompted by collaboration with Berlin-based Sven-Åke Johansson as well as Derek Bailey’s Company in London. At that time he joined the Peter Brötzmann Tentet, becoming a regular in the Chicago improvising community, working extensively with Hamid Drake and Ken Vandermark, among others.
In 2000, together with Thurston Moore and Jim O’Rourke he formed Diskaholics Anonymous Trio, started collaborating with Sonic Youth rock group, and became a member of Barry Guy’s New Orchestra.
Gustafsson became especially prolific as the 21st century began, releasing close to three-dozen albums and mounting new projects including FIRE! Orchestra, formed in 2011. Last year Gustafsson celebrated his 50th birthday with three nights of concerts at the Porgy & Bess Theatre in Vienna. Featuring various solos, duos, trios, and quartets, it also included performances by both The Thing and FIRE! A four-disc box set was released by Trost featuring the concert highlights.
Mats Gustafsson has received the Swedish Royal Academy of Music Large Prize of Jazz (2004), Expressen’s Spelmannen Prize (2004) and the prestigious Nordic Council Music Prize (2011). He was voted the best jazz artist of the year in Sweden in 2000 and 2008.
Double bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten studied jazz at the Music Conservatory in Trondheim. Later he honed his skills with various Scandinavian and American groups. More than a decade ago he moved to the United States where he started forming his own bands.
Flaten draws inspiration from such diverse figures as Derek Bailey, George Russell, Chris McGregor and filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, as well as contemporary pop melody and gritty punk music and also everyday sights and sounds. The critics compare the double bassist to such celebrities as Paul Chambers, Wilbur Ware, Charlie Haden and Malachi Favors.
It would be difficult to imagine The Thing, Free Fall, Atomic and Scorch Trio without Flaten’s curiosity and flexibility. In 2004, the improviser made his debut as a leader with his Chicago Sextet, and since 2011 his aesthetics and philosophy has been communicated by Austin-based The Young Mothers.
“It’s inspiring to have your own band to write for, but you have to make sure that people feel free and not limited by the music; the compositions should lead the way to a player’s open mind” Flaten describes his artistic principles.
Downbeat annual critics poll voted him a Rising Star on acoustic bass three times in a row, and once – an Established Talent on electric bass according.
At the age 19, Paal formed the quartet Element, which musically became a platform for several other groups and led to collaborations with Iain Ballamy and Chris Potter.
In 1996, Paal moved to Oslo, where he joined and/or took part in the forming of bands like Vindaloo, SAN, Håkon Kornstad Trio, The Quintet and Frode Gjerstad Trio. Later on he got more into his own projects and collaborations with Swedish improvisers Sten Sandell and Mats Gustafsson.
Paal played his first solo concert in 1999, and since then the solo concept has been an important part of his work: “Everyone should try doing some solo work, just to feel who you really are and what gets you going”.
Being active in several bands at the same time has always been Paal’s deliberate working method. According to him, playing is not about getting from start to goal, but rather being in an everlasting process, a continuous movement where each new piece of music performed is a prolongation of the latest.
Before turning 30 Paal has stated his position as one of the most profiled drummers in Europe today. Today in addition to The Thing, Paal’s portfolio includes Atomic, School Days, Territory Band, FME, Frode Gjerstad Trio, Sten Sandell Trio, Scorch Trio, and various duo projects such as with reedmen Ken Vandermark, John Butcher, Mats Gustafsson, organist Nils Henrik Asheim and noise wizard Lasse Marhaug. He is also a member of Peter Brötzmann Tentet.
The drummer has made numberless performances at festivals and clubs in Europe and the USA and participated on more than 50 recordings. He runs his own annual improvised music festival All Ears in Oslo, and plans to start his own recording label for vinyl productions.