THE THING WITH OTOMO YOSHIHIDE Shinjuku Crawl / THE THING WITH JIM O’ROURKE: Shinjuku Growl (Smalltown Superjazzz)

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Posted on Jul 26th 2011 01:26 am

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The Thing with Otomo Yoshihide: Shinjuku Crawl The Thing with Jim O'Rourke: Shinjuku Growl

THE THING with OTOMO YOSHIHIDE
Shinjuku Crawl
STSJ169CD
Smalltown Superjazzz 2011
06 Tracks. 66mins33secs

THE THING with JIM O’ROURKE
Shinjuku Growl
STSJ201CD
Smalltown Superjazzz 2011
04 Tracks. 56mins27secs

Shinjuku Crawl
Amazon UK: CD US: CD | DLD Boomkat: CD iTunes: DLD
Shinjuku Growl
Amazon UK: CD US: CD Boomkat: CD

The trio of saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, bass player Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love are as impossible to pin down as their name suggests. Formed in 2000 when the trio met to play a string of live dates, The Thing have since grown into an incredibly complex operation. Propelled by the tight dynamics of the rhythm section formed by Håker Flaten and Nilssen-Love, and led by the visceral sax of Gustafsson, The Thing began by exploring the world of Don Cherry, their debut album’s title, itself a reference to Cherry, ending up as the trio’s nom de guerre. On following releases, the trio tackled radically different grounds by not only sourcing their material from the likes of Ornette Coleman or Joe McPhee but also from The White Stripes, PJ Harvey or the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, leading them to continuously expand into freer and more fluid forms.

Recorded in October 2007 and February 2008 respectively, from live sessions at Pit Inn in Tokyo, Shinjuku Crawl and Shinjuku Growl see The Thing joined by guitarists Otomo Yoshihide and Jim O’Rourke. While documenting sessions separated by only a few months, these two records explore radically different atmospheres. Of the two, Growl is the most brutal, angular and flamboyant. With Håker Flaten and Nilssen-Love in charge of generating the necessary power for the whole machine to move forward, Gustafsson and O’Rourke are free to push their respective instrument into some fairly electrifyingly raw corners, the guitarist often answering challenges from the saxophonist with grinding assaults. Their performance at times goes beyond the idea of dialogue to reach the intensity of blazing rows, but this is in no way a conflictual relationship, quite the opposite. It is as if the pair were pushing themselves forward by daring each other to take the next step. For three minutes, O’Rourke sustains a pretty intense section during which he tears through cascading drums and rumbling bass half way through If Not Ecstatic, We Replay, before Gustafsson pushes his way through to take his place at the fore. Then it is his turn to deliver a damning statement. This is partly repeated on Half A Dog Can’t Even Take A Shit, cast between incendiary sax phrases and slabs of fuzz guitar, or later on the fragmented title track.

The Thing are not all about molten avant jazz though. They can prove equally devastatingly brilliant in their much quieter moments. The first six minutes of If Not Ecstatic are incredibly delicate and textural as Paal Nilssen-Love toys with all sorts of non-percussive noises, with Håker Flaten and Gustafsson barely daring to break the quasi silence. It takes some time for the machine to warm up and get in motion, giving the time for the listener to contemplate its entrails before they get twisted out of shape for good. Later on, My Mouth Is Already Full is not quite as delicate, but once again, Nilssen-Love opens the proceedings with bells and noises which are progressively covered with rampant strips of howling sax and distorted guitar, before things become extremely sparse in the second half, until the instruments are mere specs of dust on the horizon.

Recorded (by Jim O’Rourke) a few months before, Shinjuku Crawl is a more nuanced record, where The Thing and Otomo Yoshihide explore a wider range of moods. Echoing Growl’s opening sequence, Shinjuku Crawl, First Attempt is a slow burning piece which begins with tentative touches from all parties before building up to a more intense second half. Yoshihide’s guitar textures are ghostly and cutting all at once, becoming progressively more abrupt and sharp over the course of the piece. Second and Third Attempts are more straightforward and approachable, and here again, the quartet are found exploring miniature textural set-ups before they progressively let the flow of energy take over. On the latter, they even fool their audience by almost bringing the piece to a halt before breaking into more abstract grounds in the last minute and a half. Uramado (Thank You Mr Fukuoka) is by far the most atmospheric and peaceful piece of this whole twin set. Nilssen-Love provides once again a wide array of extra-percussive textures upon which Gustafsson and Yoshihide place exquisite brushes, while Håker Flaten remains extremely discreet. And while Dori Dugout parts 1 & 2 return, at least for a moment to more sustained moments, this never reaches the intensity encountered on Shinjuku Growl. In fact, the relationship between Gustafsson and Yoshihide works in very different way to that with O’Rourke. There are few incandescent dialogues or raging effusions between the two, their exchanges remained for the best part more platonic. This is perhaps why the quartet appear unusually quiet and allow themselves time to experiment with delicate brushes and motifs, and while this is not a ground The Thing venture onto much, it is rather successful here.

The Thing are an unpredictable formation at best, and these two records are as different to each other as they are to the rest of the trio’s cannon. At their most intimate and delicate, The Thing deliver a particularly fine album with Shinjuku Crawl, but they let their incendiary nature resurface with panache on Shinjuku Growl.

Shinjuku Crawl: 4.8/5 Shinjuku Growl: 4.7/5

Smalltown Superjazzz
Shinjuku Crawl
Amazon UK: CD US: CD | DLD Boomkat: CD iTunes: DLD
Shinjuku Growl
Amazon UK: CD US: CD Boomkat: CD

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