Multi-saxophonist Mats Gustafsson occasionally seems hell bent on out-screaming everyone from the great linear ranks of fellow reed fire breathers. When you hear him at full tilt, you wonder what Pharoah Sanders, Peter Brotzmann, Evan Parker and Charles Gayle must be thinking. He’s learned from each of them. That kind of education is about more than simple volume and aggression though; Gustafsson has mastered the advanced language of harmonics, false fingerings, and overblowing that give him a wide range of improvisatory options.
On the power trio Opus Apus, Gustafsson gets all the support he needs from the Brothers Jormin, bass playing Anders and drummer Christian. Unsurprisingly, the brothers play in a tightly interwoven fashion, although they are not similar stylistically. Anders employs a gargantuan tone — a virtual fortress in and of itself — while Christian is more inclined to play into the spaces left by his brother.
The album leads off with Ornette Coleman’s striking “What Reason Could I Give.” Gustafsson, on tenor, immediately pays homage to Ornette’s longtime partner Dewey Redman, employing the combination singing/playing that was one of the tenor’s signature sounds. The saxophone solo is bold and declamatory, perfectly unpinned by Anders Jormin’s Charlie Haden-ish octaves. “Crex Crex,” with bass clarinet as vocalized as the tenor of the previous piece, is a three-way conversation, starting, stopping, abruptly changing volume, and culminating in a virtuosic tour de force. The initially fast paced “Korpo ll” is the spiritual descendant of Albert Ayler’s “Spiritual Unity,” mitigated by the complex glottal tonguing associated with Evan Parker. Gustafsson and the Jormins aren’t copying their mentors; we’re hearing developed musicians respectfully utilizing language that’s been handed down to them, then finding new places to take it.
There are times, as during “Lagopus Lagopus,” where Anders Jormin’s masterful arco bass playing, conjoined with bass clarinet and tiny, lighting fast percussion sounds, is more reminiscent of 21st-century classical music than of anything relating to jazz. Many of the pieces on Opus Apus use double names, and one wonders if this doesn’t connect in some way to the consanguinity of the men lending their sound judgment to what’s being played. And, as incendiary as most of the material is, the album ends contemplatively, with cowbells (similar to some of the bells used in Buddhist meditation) whispering, and what sounds like an alto flute. The decision to close the album in such a pacific way seems nearly a benediction, a generous way of bringing the listener back to a place of serenity.