Scandinavian power-jazz trio The Thing—saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love—are back with Shake!, their first studio album since 2013’s Boot! That one featured versions of John Coltrane‘s “India” and Duke Ellington‘s “Heaven,” as well as four originals. This one kicks off with a medley of “Viking Disco” by Nilssen-Love and Ornette Coleman‘s “Perfection,” while the third track is a version of Loop‘s “The Nail Will Burn” which, at 2:43, is just over half the length of, and noticeably faster than, the original.
Stream “The Nail Will Burn”:
The album also features two Håker Flaten compositions which are linked by their titles, “Til Jord Skal Du Bli” (“To Earth Shall You Return” in Norwegian) and “Fra Jord Er Du Kommet” (“From Earth You Have Come”). The former starts out sparse and abstract, but gradually builds to a howling Gustafsson solo atop a throbbing, repetitive bass line and much thumping and crashing from the drummer. The second is built around softly struck gongs and delicate washes of cymbal, as the saxophonist, playing a baritone, emits long, slow rumbling tones before, in the final two minutes, essaying a thoughtful balladlike melody while Håker Flaten’s bass becomes almost concussive, threatening to overpower the mix.
On the album’s longest track, the 13:18 “Aim,” the trio is joined by alto saxophonist Anna Högberg of Dog Life and cornet player Goran Kajfes of Nacka Forum and Oddjob. (The latter group won Swedish Grammy awards in 2002 and 2012 for Best Jazz Album and Best Children’s Album, respectively.) The piece maintains a steady pace for its first half; the guests don’t show up until nearly the five-minute mark, slowly stepping forward to flank the blustery, slow-walking Gustafsson with keening ornamentations. Soon, all three are soloing at once, nobody trying to play over the others but rather creating a sort of exuberant polyphony, like a BYG-Actuel session from 1969. Högberg’s alto is frequently more biting than piercing, her phrases short and intense; Kajfes opts for upper-register squeals and ripples, offering rapidly shifting thoughts, in a somewhat Bill Dixon-ish manner, rather than a consistent theme. Between them (he’s in the left speaker, she’s in the right), Gustafsson becomes a second bass, mostly focusing on a simple, low phrase that’s matched by Håker Flaten.
Despite the Loop cover, Shake! is one of The Thing‘s most overtly “free jazz” releases, and represents yet another development of their highly identifiable core sound. It’s got all the muscle and weight of their best work, and none of the restraint and self-censorship of their 2012 collaboration with Neneh Cherry (reviewed here). It’s good to have them back.