Thirty-year-old Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafsson is a striking free-improviser obsessed with the sound of his instrument and the power it’s capable of unleashing. Greatly influenced by brawny German sax uebermensch Peter Brotzmann, Gustafsson channels his power into gorgeously finessed machinations. When he’s blowing full on, his tone cuts through any setting like a scythe, a concentrated bundle of sound relentlessly driven yet willing and eager to change direction depending on the mood of his compatriots. More impressive, however, is Gustafsson’s other, chamberlike side, one seemingly concerned with the suppression of power. He breaks blasts of silence with frustrated blurts, gasps, squeals, squeaks, and hisses to build an exquisite, almost heart-stopping tension. It’s as if he’s conducting a survey on weird sounds he can wring from his saxophone, yet there’s an undeniable logic to the exploration. Chicagoans will get three different opportunities to witness his divergent sides this week: One set at Sunday’s HotHouse show groups him with bass clarinetist Gene Coleman and guitarist Jim O’Rourke, who surely draw out his quieter side, while the second set will open the floodgates by matching him up with saxophonist Ken Vandermark, bassist Kent Kessler, and drummer Steve Hunt (all three from the NRG Ensemble). Wednesday’s performance at the Renaissance Society will be a solo concert. Sunday, 7:30 PM, HotHouse, 1565 N. Milwaukee; 235-2334. Wednesday, 7:30 PM, Renaissance Society, 5811 S. Ellis; 702-8670.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Gudrun Edel-Roesnes.