Across two side-long tracks, this “spontaneous composition” using only the Grafton Alto Saxophone, Bengt is an in-depth study of a singular instrument, as well as of the artist himself. The unique tonality of the instrument, and Gustafsson’s unique approach to playing it makes for a fitting tribute to Bengt Nordström, who whom this work is dedicated.
Nordström is the father of the Swedish jazz scene, being one of the earliest practitioners in the country, as well as having produced Albert Ayler’s first album, Something Different, in 1963. Gustafsson was heavily influenced by his unique improvisational style, and though his own playing and work is different, here he adopts the style and sound of his friend and collaborator in a fitting tribute.
The A-side of the vinyl sticks to lightly played, higher register notes at first, quiet and carefully controlled. The erratic notes become just as important as the spaces between them, sometimes silent, sometimes the mechanical clattering of keys. The short, bleating, clipped notes become louder and louder, occasionally drifting into recognizable free jazz territory, but staying even more disjointed. By the end, the sound shifts into extremely short notes that sound more like percussion than tone, and by the end just the subtle breathing of Gustafsson.
On the flip, the percussive, rattling noises from sax notes appear again, more restrained but no less effective. The first four or so minutes of the track sound nothing at all like a woodwind instrument, more about breathing and mouth sounds. When the more traditional sound of the instrument comes in, they’re almost delicate, pretty outstretched notes, compared to the tightly clipped and scattershot ones from before. By the half-way mark it goes all out into dissonant skronk, sounding like the instrument shrieking in pain, but closes on the most quietest of notes possible.
The thought of a 40 minute album of just saxophone improvisations was a bit intimidating to me at first, because I was simply unsure how it would hold my interest, but Gustafsson’s unique playing and approach to the instrument gave it a depth and complexity that made all the difference. Even if he was intentionally channeling Nordström, he still put his own unique stamp on it. Plus, I have to appreciate the label going above and beyond the traditional download-code digital option and instead including the album on CD as well as pristine white vinyl.
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