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Thursday, 4 August 2011

Record Review - The Thing

Shinjuku Crawl
Smalltown Superjazz
Shinjuku Growl
Smalltown Superjazz
In their 11 year and counting lifespan Nordic free jazz exponents
extraordinaire The Thing have earned themselves a fearsome reputation
in terms of the sheer vein-bulging intensity and the highly elastic
fluidity of their playing and, equally importantly, for their
steadfast refusal to acknowledge any limitations in their all or
nothing approach to their chosen area of expertise.

Besides their own take no prisoners, stricly no safety net approach to
free improvisation The Thing are also known for lending their own
distinctive slant to a diverse playlist of originals by White Stripes,
Yeah Yeah Yeahs, PJ Harvey and, more logically, given the trio's roots,
Duke Ellington, Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler.

These two latest releases are however, something a little out of the ordinary
even by the extraordinary standards of The Thing being a double ration of jaw
dropping live performances recorded a matter of months apart in Tokyo.
Recorded in October 2007 and February ’08 respectively at Tokyo's famed
Shinjuku Pit Inn with Otomo Yoshihide, leader of Japanese noise
outfit Ground Zero and former Sonic Youth associate and current Tokyo
resident the ubiquitous Jim O'Rourke guesting on guitar both albums
capture the wild inventiveness and the frontal lobe assault of The Thing when
set free to trade blows with fellow spirits Yoshihide and O'Rourke.
Led from the front by the towering saxophone colossus that is Mats
Gustafsson ( himself a member of Diskaholics Anonymous Trio with
Thurston Moore and Jim O'Rourke, Peter Brotzmann's Chicago Tentet,
Original Silence and a collaborator with Sonic Youth, EYE and Yoshimi )
and aided and abbeted each step of the way by the formidable spring-driven rhythm section of bassist Ingebrigt Haker Flaten and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love,
in purely rock terms useful points of reference here might be the terminal
impact of The Stooges' 'LA Blues' or the raw crank of The MC5's
'Skunk ( Sonically Speaking )' while as far as the free jazz end of the spectrum goes the principal stylistic resonnances detectable on this two part kamikaze blow-out include, among others, the forementioned Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler along with
Sun Ra, Archie Shepp, Sonny Sharrock and John Zorn's Naked City.
Shinjuku Crawl's lengthy opening title track is presented in what is
interestingly listed as the first, second and third attempts while the
concluding 'Dori Dugout' is sequenced in the more conventional parts one and two.
On Shinjuku Growl meanwhile the individual track titles read like
something has gone seriously wrong in translation as can be judged by
the wired off the meter craziness hinted at by titles like 'If Not Ecstatic, We
Replay', 'Half A Dog Can't Even Take A Shit' and 'I Can't, My Mouth Is
Already Full'.

What's common to both these white hot sessions dredged from the subterannean
depths of the heart of downtown Tokyo is the almost magical way the sounds
come to life and gradually take shape like some miraculous conjuring trick.
Straddling the entire dynamic range from exploratory whispers to
raging blitzkreig freak outs, hearing truly is believing when The Thing in the
company of Otomo Yoshihide and Jim O'Rourke turn on, tune up and take off.

Grahame Bent

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