Various Artists - The Blasting Concept [Smalltown Superjazz - 2009]For the uninitiated: no, jazz is not dead. In fact, you’ll find it is very much alive – perhaps more alive than ever. For the average man, jazz is Miles Davis, John Coltrane; Kind of Blue, A Love Supreme; a genre spanning three, maybe four decades (roughly, 30s – 70s), which then seemed to have died off suddenly as all the major players succumbed to disease, drugs, funk, what-not.
Yet jazz has always been more than that, and it has also always marched on; it has continually grown, expanded, developed. Contemporary labels such as Clean Feed, ECM and Tzadik, to name just some, still release incredible jazz records every day; the stream of incredibly talented musicians seems to swell continuously, and this reviewer, perhaps blasphemously, has little ear for the classics, instead indulging in the contemporaries.
But can you blame me? I think not. Case in point: Smalltown Superjazz. A sublabel of Smalltown Supersound primarily focusing on jazz (well, obviously), it has put out records by some of the most prominent jazz musicians of these days in recent years. To any lover of contemporary jazz, names such as Mats Gustaffson and Paal Nillsen-Love mean the world, and so they have taken the world by storm, collaborating with established jazz geniuses such as Joe McPhee and Peter Brötzmann, and such renowned avant-gardists such as Otomo Yoshihide and Yoshimi (of Boredoms and OOIOO), in addition to dozens of others.
Unsurprisingly, Gustaffson (sax) and Nilssen-Love (drums) makes plenty of appearances of this compilation (I’m tempted to say sampler, but okay); Nilssen-Love is found on seven of the twelve tracks, Gustaffson on six. Other major players here are Ken Vandermark (sax), Ingebrigt Håker-Flaten (bass), and, perhaps more surprisingly, Lasse Marhaug (as himself and as part of Jazzkammer). Knowing this, you already know what to expect: the entirety of the Scandinavian jazz scene centered round Gustaffson and Nilsson-Love is known for its virtuoso yet often relentless brand of free jazz; screeching sax, ferocious drums – and accordingly, the disc is filled to the brim with unyielding blasts of jazz and other assorted noises. Fortunately, nothing can please lovers of sounds abrasive, transgressive, or both, more.
While The Blasting Concept strays between more mellow and accessible cuts on the one hand, and much extremer cuts on the other, the emphasis is mainly on the extremer material (as per the title). The Lasse Marhaug track is expectedly harsh (the Jazzkammer track, less expectedly, a slightly muddled mess), but the traditional jazz musicians here deliver as well: the Brötzmann/Nilssen-Love/Gustaffson cut is a uncompromising clash of the titans, with Brötzmann and Gustaffson screeching the shit out of each other over the shattering foundation of drums Nilssen-Love lays down. The Offonoff track is a similar merciless affair. Elsewhere, there is room to breathe as well, though; Joe McPhee teams up with The Thing (Gustaffson, Nilssen-Love, Håker-Flaten) to deliver a fairly straight-forward but wild and exhilarating tune. Two Bands and a Legend (Joe McPhee and The Thing teaming up with garage rock band The Cato Salsa Experience) start out manically, but eventually their track tones down a bit, and a bit more, and then it’s similarly straight-forward, but likewise wild and exhilarating, and you cannot help but love it.
Elsewhere, beautiful things take place as well. Free Fall (a sax, piano, clarinet trio) is slightly less traditional in set-up, with no rhythm section at all, but appeals to this reviewer greatly (then again, exactly such set-ups appeal to me personally in jazz). The Diskaholics cut is an excellent droning sort of affair, while the track from Original Silence is, for a large part, simply funky (there is just no better word for it). The majority of tracks is perfectly enjoyable, and a good part of them are absolutely brilliant, with the only weaker material being the directionless Jazzkammer track (a remix, I should add) and the Mats/Yoshimi track, where Yoshimi wails along with Gustaffson’s softly weeping sax – the only track here that I feel could qualify as ‘unlistenable’.
Such remarks aside, The Blasting Concept is highly enjoyable, and surprisingly cohesive. Moreover, it should serve as a perfect introduction to contemporary northern-European free jazz. And while that may seem like such a niche, such a small part of the whole that is jazz, I can safely say that it’s a niche worth digging into, especially for those who like a good racket.Sven Klippel