[15 November 2013]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
The Thing never, ever messed around. One could make the argument that their music is a perfect reflection of their blunt name. And now that they have their own label, they are messing around even less than before. They made Bag It! with the help of Steve Albini and The Cherry Thing in collaboration with Neneh Cherry (daughter of the late, great Don Cherry). Now with BOOT!, the Scandinavian free jazz trio is releasing an album sans a middleman. What does this mean for the overall artistic integrity for the Thing? Nothing, really. It probably just means that they get to approve their own budget proposals. The Thing is still the Thing.
For those who don’t know what that means, it means that Mats Gustafsson still drags his bass, baritone, and tenor saxophones through the mud, milking every guttural note worth its weight in overtones. Ingebrigt Håker Flaten continues to play the electric bass like he’s caught in a musical tornado of punk, metal and jazz. And as far as Paal Nilssen-Love goes, his drum kit should have multiple bruises by this point. There’s a reason that he is one of Ken Vandermark’s go-to skinmen, and the Thing has always allowed him to flex the muscles of his reputation. You can catch yourself forgetting about the sum since the individual parts are a kick of lead to the gut apiece.
The whole album begins with a left-right blow. The pickup note and the downbeat are played by Gustafsson at his most sonorous, and the band’s accompaniment of these punches are the recurring theme for “India”. And if this is a ramshakled reminder of how a song can take flight from a simple, slowly played figure, then “Reboot” starts off taking the “L.A. Blues” route with no discernible theme in sight. Just machine gun racket at its nastiest. “Reboot” then settles into a caravan riding on Nilssen-Love’s tom work, involving more of his kit as the sound pushes onward. Nilssen-Love and Ingebrigt Håker Flaten never allow the train to derail, even as a track like “Reboot” picks up speed.
Oddly enough, BOOT! does not rely on a lot of breakneck tempos. But this is a mark of professionalism. You can pinpoint an amateur musician because they inadvertently speed up the tempo when they are asked to play louder. The Thing are way beyond such problems. A track like “India” can be loud as hell but still slower than midtempo. Then again, nailing down a chief tempo for each of the six tracks is not worth your time since ebb and flow appear to be the order of the day here. If a song wants to suddenly halt and then turn into something else, then the Thing let it happen. Two of the most bi-polar tracks are saved for last, the title track and “Epilog”. One is seven minutes long, the other 14. It goes without saying that you can’t sit and stay for the climate. It’s at this point that Ingebrigt Håker Flaten has distorted his instrument beyond recognition, easily giving the listener the impression that someone else stopped by with either a gnarled guitar or an ungodly noisebox.
You can spruce up the graphics of a Coke can, but the contents are still the same as they were before. With a change of label, the Thing remain the band they were before. But listeners of free jazz have come to take the chemistry and telepathy of a band like the Thing for granted. This kind of sound is not an everyday occurrence, but it does happen every time these three guys come together. Allow it some staying power.