The Thing – Garage (2004; 2015 vinyl reissue)

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First recorded in January 2004 by Kai Andersen at Athletic Sound, the Thing’s Garage was originally released on Smalltown Superjazzz. Re-mixed and mastered on last March by Audun Strype at Strype Audio, Garage — which finds Mats Gustaffson collaborating with Paal Nilson Love and Ingrbrigt Haker-Flaten — is now available on vinyl from Trost Records.

From the first listen, the energy and driving spirit of the music is captivating and impossible to ignore. This trio was made for this kind of music and their coming together for this album is a joy.

The first track is a cover of the the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s “Art Star,” and is a bass-driven number with a catchy tune played by Haker-Flaten, over which the sax of Mats Gustaffson screams and wails, at times joining the bass for the tune before spinning off in all directions. An incredible dialogue is set up, with the drums underpinning the other instruments with manic, driving rhythm.

The second track, “Aluminium” (a cover of the White Stripes’ song) starts with deep throbbing bass, before drums and sax come in, the sax leading the way with the others following as willing participants in a battle for the lead. Gustaffson’s sax lays down the gauntlet for the others to pick up and run with as they choose. The track is sheer delight.

“Haunted” follows, a cover of the Norman Howard number, again introduced by the bass with sax coming in with the melody, which is, well … haunting. Mats Gustaffson demonstrates an emotive style of playing which is unusual for him and the track develops into a mesmeric song. Until that is about half way through when it seems, enough is enough and Gustaffson takes the song to a manic conclusion, stretching the tune to within an inch of its existence, but it is never lost and returns for a curtain call towards the end, supported by drumming and bass lines to make the heart melt.

The Thing’s version of Peter Brotzmann’s “Eine Klein Marschmusik” is eerie and other-worldly with all musicians contributing to the esoteric feel to the track. The strong sax playing develops and soars throughout the piece and the others follow with the bass ever busy and the drums never ceasing in their speed and counterpoint rhythms. It finishes with a delicious free for all, led by loose-reeded sax and flowing drums and bass.

“Hey Flask” is the Thing’s own composition and begins with dolorous sax over manic drums in beautiful accord before the bass gradually ventures from the background to the foreground and dictates the rhythm, leading to a bass solo which finishes the track, demonstrating the dexterity of Haker-Flaten.
“Have Love Will Travel’ — the original hit for Robert Berry and the Sonics in the 1960s — is reminiscent of a track from a spoof spy movie from that era, with sax setting up the rocking, roaring tune, into which the other musicians quickly buy in. It is fun, manic and impossible to stay still to. The album-closing title track is the group’s composition, and here they return to free playing, the crazy, off-the-wall sax riffs supported by busy bass and manic drums.

The overriding feel of Garage is the communication and understanding the musicians have with each other, from picking up the tunes and riffs, supporting the manic sax playing to coming together in tuneful accord. This album lifts the spirit and stays in the mind. There is a lot of tunefulness here, which perhaps gives the album a wider appeal — yet each musician shows they can take a tune and do with it what they will, exploring and dissecting the riffs and patterns yet never losing touch with the essence.

The Thing’s Garage is one of the best albums I have heard this year. The combination is a dream and the energy filled tracks give a sense of fun, experimentation. Yet, at the same time, they manage to keep a lid on things — just.

Sammy Stein

Sammy Stein

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Sammy Stein
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