Scandinavian free-jazz juggernaut the Thing returns after dropping a fiery collaboration with James Blood Ulmer | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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Scandinavian free-jazz juggernaut the Thing returns after dropping a fiery collaboration with James Blood Ulmer

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Over the course of its career the Scandinavian juggernaut known as the Thing has collaborated with a wildly diverse group of musicians: art-pop singer Neneh Cherry, free-jazz warrior Joe McPhee, Japanese experimentalist Otomo Yoshihide, polymath (and former Chicagoan) Jim O’Rourke, and Sonic Youth front man Thurston Moore, among others. The trio—saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, and bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten—surveys classic free-jazz tunes by Don Cherry as well as garage-rock classics by the Sonics—highlighting the inextricable link between soul and muscularity, and digging into how sound can be both a weapon and a balm. Last year the Thing extended its connections with Baby Talk (Trost), a partnership with the singular American guitarist James Blood Ulmer, who devised a bracing style of jazz-funk under the tutelage of Ornette Coleman. The recent album, cut at Molde Jazz Festival in 2015, found the trio supporting Ulmer on four of his signature tunes, creating a corkscrewing grind that straddles the gulf between fiery free jazz and roiling groove that the guitarist himself told me conjures his early work with the Music Revelation Ensemble. The Thing functions as a powerful backing band, but not without expressing its own personality; Gustafsson, in particular pivots from his frequent riff-driven elaboration for a more probing attack that slaloms amid Ulmer’s jagged-edge shimmer with preternatural ease. Tonight the Thing performs on its own, where the trio easily traverses all of the terrain on those various collaborations with searing focus.   v

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