The Thing – “Chisma” (Action Jazz, Smalltown Supersound 2005)
I discovered Scandinavian “power-jazz” trio The Thing via their saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, whose crazy squeals and head-ripping blow-storms accompanied Steve Reid and Four Tet’s sort of molten-lava free-jazz trip on last year’s Live at the South Bank. (See Rue Championnet Pt. 1 for a 15-minute excerpt.) Action Jazz, The Thing’s fifth album, has some incredible moments of its own, and on Sunday afternoon, down on Rue Championnet, it was particularly invigorating. Kinda shook some of the eye-crust off the apathetic pedestrian gawker I turn into on lazy Sunday walks.
Like the best – most dynamic – “noise” music (and it is no coincidence The Thing cover Lightning Bolt’s “Ride the Sky” on the album), Action Jazz manages to push the listener into its own energy flows and currents. We’re caught between demented percussive boosts and blinding crests of sonic abandon until there’s not much to do but shake your head until the vision is blurred and go walk around like you’re being cattle-prodded. (Plus, the album’s bare-bones sound is perfectly suited to absorb outside sounds and turn them into fucking rock&roll.)
Of course, there’ll be moments when you feel like you’re hearing autistic baby cows being tortured in front of a dozen megaphones. That’s part of the package, I wanna say, though I know it won’t prevent you from wondering what kind of sadistic/pretentious asshole I could be to even suggest that this be considered for outside listening. I’m not challenging anybody, and you won’t hear me say I play “Chisma” on the bad days – on my way home after a full 8 hours of being slapped in the face by a giant rubber penis with “INTERN” markered all over it. (Or maybe I do, but then again there is nothing like sonic catharsis on a crowded, stinking subway.)
The point is, when the twitch and scream and bang all come together, or maybe, more interestingly, when you stop trying to will shape onto the music, Action Jazz lives up to its name and creates a tangible yet completely unregulated (that is, formless) physical universe. Not to get all anarcho-theoretical about this, but I’m pretty sure there’s valuable lessons to learn from such sonic shenanigans, ones that apply (or should apply, in a better world) to uses, partitions, representations, policing, vandalizing, and ultimately sharing of urban spaces and landscapes.
(For those interested, more Action Jazz here.)