Album Review: The Thing – Boot!




Saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, the Scandinavian trio collectively known as The Thing, create pummeling free jazz full of rock fury and noise destruction that still honors the jazz tradition from which it arose. The visceral results of this interdisciplinary skill (like 2009’s sublime Bag It!) have made them one of the best-regarded jazz outfits in the world. They continue to live up to that reputation with Boot! (their first release on their newly formed The Thing Records), a set that opens with Coltrane-gone-punk and never looks back.

That opener, a take on Impressions‘ “India”, rides on Gustafsson’s iterations of the tune’s head, his honked baritone sax menacing where Coltrane’s soprano had fluttered. The track also establishes Håker Flaten’s use of distorted electric bass throughout the record, a scuzzy gravel layer under Nilssen-Love’s shuddering, constant fills. After burning things down, they “Reboot”, a tom raga and quick slices of bass swaying mystically in a darkly mellow counterpoint to the tectonics that came just before. The track cycles for seven minutes as the drums fill more and more space, pieces of bass stitched together with a double-time clap for the ecstatic conclusion to the ritual.

The bass and baritone sax link for the circling theme of Duke Ellington’s “Heaven”, scattershot cymbal hiss and rattle fuzzing the edges. The Thing turn the Sacred Concert staple into a droning exploration. Håker Flaten pushes those familiar notes in quick succession, as Gustafsson delivers runs that range from bass rumble to aching squeal. The 14-minute “Epilog” is a free jazz deep sea dive, Nilssen-Love’s muscly snare rolls rippling over the slow two-step sax theme.

Much like the one on the album’s cover, the trio flex their muscles on Boot!, covering even the relatively low-key moments in a thick, rocky mantle. While it may not have the varied atmospheres of their best records, sheer strength has always been one of the most effective tools in The Thing’s arsenal. The trio fuse jazz classics and their own noisy improvisation with brute force here, never lacking for unified vision or deep subtlety.

Essential Tracks: “India”, “Reboot”