Mats Gustafsson & Christof Kurzmann — Falling and Five Other Failings (Trost, 2016)
These experiments in sound situate Mats Gustafsson, that firebrand of the sax, in minimalist mode — small blips, often repeated in simple percussive fashion, against the often sparse laptop electronics of Christof Kurzmann. It’s a march through a distant alien world of crackles, sine waves, and floating musical notes. The overall effect is sparse — and rewarding, if you’re in the right mood.
“Failing II,” for instance, pits Gustafsson’s restrained high-register scribbles, like the motions of an insect, against swirling, static electronic tones. Kurzmann also reflects some of the saxophone sound back into the mix for a brief spate of multi-tongued babble.
The quiet aesthetic peaks on “Failing IV,” where the clacking of saxophone keys and small, crisp curls of digital sound create a noise-music sotto voce. Similarly, “Failing V” starts off quiet as a hearing test, with Gustafsson trading tiny whispers of melody against small puffs of computerized sound.
Kurzmann does produce a sense of tension and drama, though. “Failing V” eventually introduces a quiet pulse that frees the mood and lets both players get more aggressive (but still quiet). On the less subtle scale is “Failing III,” a saxophone dirge where Kurzman is at first barely audible but gradually ups the volume and the activity (including samples of lonely sax tones) to momentarily overtake the sound.
Five of the tracks are improvisations. The sixth — the one called “Falling” as opposed to “Failing” — has Kurzmann on vocals, singing and speaking in soft, close-miked tones over a strain of electronic tones. It’s slow and atmospheric, but it’s the most aggressive track, in its own drawn-out way.