Barry Guy/Mats Gustafsson/Raymond Strid - "Porphyr" (Tarfala)
Given Mats Gustafsson’s various rock-oriented adventures in The Thing and with members of The Ex, Zu, and Sonic Youth, it's possible to forget that he can really cut it with top European free improvisers. Tarfala is a welcome reminder that the Swedish reedist balances his brawn and extremity with brains and carefully calibrated attunement across the dynamic spectrum to both the music and the players who make it.
Barry Guy and Raymond Strid bring their own gravitas to this encounter. Guy, an Englishman who has been playing this kind of music for over 40 years, is a member of an extraordinary, long-lived trio with Evan Parker and Paul Lytton, and he is a pioneer in large-ensemble improvisation; his bass playing also fits into various classical contexts, from Baroque to resolutely contemporary. Percussionist Strid, another Swede who is a decade Guy’s junior, was one of Gustafsson’s early guides into improvised music, and their group Gush is much missed in these parts. They and Gustafsson have worked together off and on since the early ’90s, but haven’t recorded together in about a decade.
This concert recording may make you wish you were there, but it’s definitely not a you-had-to-be-there proposition. The sound is spacious and clear, with a depth that helps to impart a sense of energy transmission, so essential to this sort of music’s success. The 27-minute title track, which sets up a twice-repeated long piece-short-piece dynamic, is named for a mountain-strewn, white-water locale in Sweden, and that seems apt. At first, Guy’s plucked notes tower, jagged and huge, while tenor sax, drums and various struck metal objects tumble and spray like a froth from a cataract. And then it all stops, giving way to music that is full of vigor despite being composed mostly of silence. It is music of constantly renegotiated balance – sometimes achieved through contrast, as in the yin-yang swirl of Strid’s mathematical complexity and Gustafsson’s primitive anguish on “Porphyr,” and other times through a dense, yet varied homogeneity of activity, as on the blizzard of notes and scrapes that ends “Tarfala.” But most of all, it is music that is entirely unto itself, never tentative, always purposeful, and totally convincing in its self-confidence.