REVIEW: FIRE! (Mats Gustafsson, Johan Berthling, Andreas Werliin) at Cafe OTO

Mats Gustafsson brings the same ferocity to electronics
that he brings to the baritone sax

FIRE! (Mats Gustafsson, Johan Berthling, Andreas Werliin)
(Cafe OTO. 21 February 2018. Review and phone-snaps by AJ Dehany)

Swedish baritone sax master Mats Gustafsson does not fuck about. Two thirds of the way through an intense one-hour set with his bruising power trio FIRE! he makes a short speech that mirrors the way the music works, deconstructing the platitudinous niceties of ordinary stage banter that none of us at Cafe OTO want to hear nor he to utter.

“Thank you very much, it is actually great to be back here. Fucked up. We have a new record and blah blah blah blah *commercial break* t-shirts, stickers. There’s beers at the bar, there’s malts at the bar….” He pauses, and resumes. “It’s a difficult world we’re living in *philosophical break* Shitloads of merch over there, some music over here. We played one, two, three, four pieces from The Hands, and the titles are… way too complicated for us to remember… but we know that one of them is actually named The Hands so that’s easy. We will play *bom bom bom* two more songs, maybe, let’s see, and then we’ll fuck off.”

This is music that does not care to give you the familiar crutches and reassuring elements that music crrrrritics would demand and musicians would try to tick off one item at a time. Harmonic interest, complexity, variation, melody, structure, depth, I don’t know, whatever. It has all these in varying degrees but in an integrated way that refuses to tick them off just to prove it’s good. It doesn’t give a shit if you think it’s good or not.

This is actually a hallmark of respect. They don’t care to patronise you or the music. Short bruising basslines from Johan Berthling cycle round, drilling into your brain. This is the deep core of the music around which explosions ricochet in a dark, harsh landscape, an urban punk industrial jazz sound sculpture that shimmers like petrol. Gustafsson’s table of electronic circuit breakers and pedals is deployed with ear-splitting ferocity. At Cafe OTO, the trio played one intense 60-minute set with material from The Hands, its sixth album of bruising unclassifiable music or anti-music. You don’t know whether to call these radically deconstructed assemblages compositions, pieces, jams, improvisations, workouts, bouts. Bouts is good. Mats Gustafsson’s physical engagement with the baritone sax makes you think of wrestling, seriously.

The impact of Andreas Werliin’s surprisingly dynamic playing across the kit is heightened by putting it through an echo pedal: the kick drum punches hard, the cymbals needle out of the sound. The mainstay of the group is the fierce heavyweight baritone sax playing of Mats Gustafsson, who tore through three reeds during the set. His playing has a visceral rhythmic physicality just in the thickness of the sound coming out of the horn, but it’s also intensely creative and responsive to the underregarded subtleties of the trio’s dynamic, always shifting and searching out new sources of energy and excitement.

AJ Dehany is based in London and writes independently about music, art and stuff.

Andreas Werliin, Mats Gustafsson, Johan Berthling

LINK: The Hands on video


The Hands
Upp o ner


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  2. I think you gave yourself away in your first four words there...

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    2. What do you mean "next", we already covered Stormzy last September!

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  4. AJ, that's a brilliant write-up for Mats and his Fire! team. Spot on. Language is absolutely in tune with his expression, sentiment, world view - as anybody can see from your verbatim quotes. It's not there to offend - it's how communication takes place. Having attended and been enriched by performances by Mats and his various co-musicians over the years, from solo to trio to big bands, which I have reported on for LondonJazzNews (incl an interview where he was so articulate and collaborative in his response), and having some of his recorded output, I feel from reading your report of how he expressed himself musically and in words that you've caught the mood perfectly. I'm sure he'd agree! He's no shrinking violet and he has concerns, music passions, political concerns, frustrations with the way things are in the world today - as we all do. If you go to his website, his Discaholic Corner vinyl section has that energy, enthusiasm and spirit, too.
    Go to a football match and you'll hear truly offensive, stomach-turning expression.
    It's let's-get-real-time. Why beat about the bush? This is a great report. As soon as I read it I was in touch with the site to say how good I thought it was; I hadn't visited the comments section at that stage!
    Well done.
    Geoff Winston

    1. Having attended the gig, I totally agree with the review and Geoff's comments.