Originally released in 2001, Live contains 76 minutes of Mats Öberg and Morgan Ågren doing what they do – and have always done – best: playing beautifully complex music that fires the imagination and the soul. Öberg and Ågren have long been associated with Frank Zappa’s legacy even though the pair were never part of an official band – the association is so close that the official press release accompanying this record raves about the connection for two full paragraphs before getting to the matter at hand – and thus mentioning his spiritual presence almost seems a painful redundancy. (If you’re curious about the Zappa connection, he apparently “discovered” the band at a young age – or so says their online press.)
Recorded in 1999 at Stockholm’s Club Fasching, the album opens with a miraculously complex and ever-shifting piece titled “Hollmervalsen”, which feels like circus music from outer space and is made all the more enjoyable by Tommy Thordsson’s wild and crazy bass playing, and Ågren’s impossibly good drumming. (There’s over-the-top guitar work from Jimmy Ågren that makes it impossible not to break into an ear-to-ear smile.) The group breaks into more intense zaniness with “Ens Schizofrens Dagbok”, which, like its successor “Ta Ned Trasan”, would not have been out of place on FZ’s One Size Fits All as it lives and dies by beautiful melodies and rhythms that nearly defy human conception.
Elsewhere the sextet gets up to some Brand X-style fusion via “Jigsaw Variations” and brings a massive dose of cosmic funk with “Min Häst”, replete with whistling keyboard lines and Tommy Thordsson’s menagerie of deeply felt and deftly expressed bass passages. Although the music owes something to a bygone era – that time when Jeff Beck and Mahavishnu Orchestra wandered the musical landscape freely preying on weaker, less evolved species – it’s not crippled by that debt, instead emerging as an original sounding entity that, like all of us, came from somewhere.
As with most releases of this ilk, the real story rests in the more involved and drawn-out pieces and there are many here. The eight-minute-plus “Banned Again” has all the stops and starts and shouts and stammers of the best conversations, and the nine-minute “Kintören” is as light and entertaining as it is heavy and thought-provoking, an out-and-out showstopper that surpasses many compositions from the peak era of fusion. That takes nothing away from the album’s two shortest tracks, the 30-second “Paltsug” and the three-minute-plus ballad “Igloo”.
What’s remarkable throughout is the group’s equal blend of playfulness, humour and sense of serious musical dedication, the ability to fuse complex musical passages with heartfelt emotion, and courageous performances. This band isn’t alone in its ability to do that but it’s certainly one of the rarest, most interesting groups that can and is at or very near the top of its rarefied class.
With a wide range of past Mats/Morgan albums reissued (Live included) in the U.S. in recent years and recordings such as 2005’s excellent Trends & Other Diseases available, throngs of thirsty fusion fans can get a thorough fix of this unique and tireless outfit that no doubt will endure for many years to come.