Mats Gustafsson & NU Ensemble – Hidros 8

By Eyal Hareuveni

Swedish reeds player-composer Mats Gustafsson began organizing his composed improvisations with graphic scores – the series of Hidros for different versions of NU Ensembles, in 1997. Each version of Hidros offered a new piece, a new line-up and a new theme. Up until now, only four versions of Hidros, including the latest one, Hidros 8 – Healwere released officially – the first one, Hidros One (Caprice, 1999), Hidros 3 (dedicated to Patti Smith, with sonic Youth, Smalltown Supersound, 2004) and Hidros 6 – Knockin’ (dedicated to the music and words of Little Richard, NotTwo, 2014). Other versions of Hidros were dedicated to Sami culture, Frank Zappa (Hidros 7 – Zap), Austrian contemporary composer György Ligeti and to architecture. Gustafsson recently performed his Hidros 9 for three different groups of instruments, with the conductor using three types of graphic scores and different methods.

Hidros 8 – Heal was inspired by the current, troubled state of the world, and Gustafsson, who always insists stupid that our role – as artists and individuals, is to fightity, locally and globally, describes this composition as “an to rise and find the questions about the state of things. There is an extreme unbalance on local and global levels at the moment — from ideological, economical, cultural and political perspectives — and we need an equilibrium of some sorts very soon. can it HEAL? what can make it all HEAL? and for how long can it HEAL?”

The ten-piece NU Ensemble of Hidros 8 – Heal features close comrades from Fire! Orchestra (sax player Anna Högberg, Portuguese trumpeter Susana Santos Silva and tubist Per-Åke Holmlander), Austrian turntables wizard Dieb13 (who worked with Gustafson in the Fake The Facts trio and in Hidros 6) and lloopp software player-vocalist Christof Kurzmann (who plays with Gustafsson in the Falling duo), Italian bassist Massimo Pupillo (of Zu, who played with Gustafsson in the sextet Original Silence, Zu collaboration with Gustafsson and in the trio Melt with drummer-vocalist Brian Chippendale), Norwegian guitar hero Hedvig Mollestad ( who worked with Gustafsson in Hidros 7) and drummer Ivar Loe Bjørnstad (who plays in Mollestad Trio), and Dutch drummer and electronics player Gert-Jan Prins (who played with Gustafson in the late nineties in a trio with pianist Misha Mengelberg). Holmlander, Dieb13 and Mollestad also play also in Hidros 9. Hidros 8 – Heal was recorded at DE Studio in Antwerp in November 2016.

Hidros 8 – Heal swings between a few intense moods that reflect the current feelings of unrest, chaos and confusion. It begins with a tense, abstract mode of electronic sounds and resonating gongs and cymbals, but when the whole ensemble joins its energy is channeled into a tough yet lyrical grind. Pupillo and the drummers set a massive pulse while Santos Silva and Högberg suggest a more poetic abstraction of rhythmic pattern. Gustafsson shifts the course again, with a powerful, searching solo and in intense and thorny duels with Holmlander, Dieb13 and Kurzmann, but, again, when the whole ensemble joins, this piece has the same suggestive and irresistible power of the Fire! Orchestra. Mollestad shines now with a searing guitar solo that corresponds with the work of seminal prog-rock guitarists like Robert Fripp and David Gilmour. The second half of Hidros 8 – Heal takes the message of this composition even further. Kurzmann recites, whispers, chants and almost shouts Gustafsson’s impassioned, vulnerable lyrics with urgency and conviction, while the ensemble cements the lyrical and desperate state of mind of this composition, like an irreverent prayer motivating a positive change, out of the bewildering and noisy chaos : “….Why I am / Why I Lean / Why I Heal. // Why I am, I am why……….// Turn your time / Turn your time / heal / Again and again”. Then, Högberg leads the NU Ensemble into the uplifting, cathartic conclusion of this most impressive composition.

Mats Gustafsson & NU Ensemblen – Hidros 4 @ Culturen (Archival Series 002, 2022)

Gustafsson began to upload rare archival recordings to his Bandcamp page.
Hidros 4 @ Culturen is the second of these recordings (following a recording of a solo slide saxophone). Hidros 4 was composed in 2001 for a European ensemble of ten innovative free improvisers – German trumpeter Axel Dörner, drummer Paul Lovens and vintage EMS synth wizard Thomas Lehn, Italian trombonist Sebi Tremontana, Holmlander, French sax player Daunik Lazro, Portuguese violinist Carlos Zingaro, Dutch double bass player Wilber de Joode, and Swedish Holmlander, guitarist David Stackenäs and Gustafson. The only available information available indicates that it was recorded live at Culturen center in Västeräs, Sweden in May 2001.

This 40-minute piece shifts between abstract and sparse, sound-oriented modes that fully exhaust the experimental, extended techniques of the ten musicians, and encourages individual, searching solos, to short ensemble drones and eruptions. But towards the end of this piece, the loose architecture of this composition gels and the whole ensemble explores briefly its intense and fiery power, honoring the seminal legacy of Peter Brötzmann and his FMP recordings.

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