Much has changed for Swedish saxophone marvel Mats Gustafsson since he made his first Chicago appearances two years ago. Virtually unknown outside of European improvised-music circles back then, he’s quickly gained a reputation and released a flurry of recordings that capture his sublime talent and stylistic flexibility. Whether performing solo, in a hard-charging context with Ken Vandermark, or with his highly intuitive trio Gush, Gustafsson’s style is distinctive and his expressive abilities seem limitless. His squeaks, screams, and blurts are meticulously constructed, developing with an almost nonchalant sense of drama. Just released is Mouth Eating Trees and Related Activities, Gustafsson’s second recording for the local Okka Disk label, which pairs him with the British bassist Barry Guy and German percussionist Paul Lovens. Though they range from crystalline, pin-drop interactions to gnarled, rumbling explosions, the trio’s performances are very much of a piece, finding that rare nexus where sound for sound’s sake, textural interplay, and the element of surprise work toward a single end. As on his two previous Chicago visits, Gustafsson will give a number of performances in different contexts (Saturday at the Blue Rider Theatre with Michael Zerang; Sunday at Reckless Records on Broadway with Vandermark and Mars Williams), but the most exciting may well be a trio gig with drummer Hamid Drake and bassist Malachi Favors. Drake’s previous performances with Gustafsson have suggested an alchemical bond between the two, but the addition of Favors, the brilliant lifetime member of the Art Ensemble of Chicago–rarely heard in a pure improv setting–is the special treat. Wednesday, 9 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 276-3600.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Gudron Edel-Rosnes.