Mats Gustafsson – baritone sax | Sebastian Bergström – piano | Joacim Nyberg – bass | Emil Åstrand-Melin – drums
All compositions by Gustafsson (STIM), Bergström (STIM), Nyberg (STIM) & Åstrand-Melin (STIM). Recorded and mixed by Janne Hansson at Atlantis studio, Stockholm, on May 2 & 3, 2012. Mastered by Arūnas Zujus at MAMAstudios. Liner notes by Brian Morton. Design by Oskaras Anosovas. Produced by Correction & Mats Gustafsson. Exectutive producer – Danas Mikailionis. Co-producer – Valerij Anosov
Side A: 1. Looking up. Birds 2. Winters Within 3. Personal Note No.3
Side B: 1. Four Is a Sufficient Condition for Amendment 2. Correct This! 3. A New Ghost 4. SHIFT
The inmates riot in the House of Correction.
The girls who put up postcards in London telephone boxes – are telephone boxes used for anything else now? – offer correction among other delights. The ticker-tape in newspaper offices – also not much used now – hesitates on a story, flags CORRECTION, and adjusts the casualty figures up or down. We know what the word means, and what it means is somewhere on the pleasure/pain divide, somewhere between sticking to and breaking the rules, some measure of restraint coupled to a throwing over of all restraint.
And that brings us to Correction, the working name of Sebastian Bergström, Joacim Nyberg and Emil Åstrand-Melin, a ‘piano trio’ as far removed from the Jess Stacy or even Bill Evans model of piano trios as it is possible to imagine. Every generation brings along new terms of praise. Where Jess or Bill might have been described as ‘swinging’ or ‘flowing’, Correction are ‘immersive’ and perhaps even ‘assaultive’. This wouldn’t necessarily be a good thing if it were not for the group’s fierce discipline and for the underlying poetry of their supercharged performances. It might seem odd to settle on a literary comparison, but the impression I get from Correction – having seen them in performance a few times and having scoured the internet in preparation for this – is a pungent craft that makes me think, even more oddly, of that master of correction Jonathan Swift. He has a poem called, simply, ‘On Poetry’ that goes ‘Then, rising with Aurora’s light, / The Muse, invoked, sits down to write; / Blot out, correct, insert, refine, / Enlarge, diminish, interline’. Relevance? Very straightforward. You have to get up early and work hard to deal in chaos as confidently as Correction do. But more than that, they perform free jazz with the same guild sincerity as their collaborator here. Mats Gustafsson doesn’t come into this association like Gulliver in Lilliput. He comes in, as always, with a desire to make a contribution rather than to make a ‘guest star’’s mark. And Swift’s definition of the poetic process seems to me very accurate in relation to what Gustafsson and his Correction colleagues naturally do.
Jazz is a live art in a way that most other arts rarely are. Ironically, poetry is one area of occasional exception. The English Metaphysicals perfected the art of the ‘reinvented poem’, a piece of text which includes its own CORRECTION markers, where an image is tried, found, wanting and set aside (but not deleted). This is the jazz man’s art as well. A phrase is shaped. It’s a beautiful phrase, but perhaps too craggy or too light. So another is found. Or something that gives the phrase the balance it needs comes up later and is retrospectively interlined. Creating a solo, or a group performance, or a poem: there are clear similarities.
The Metaphysicals were interesting because they left the working out on the page. They weren’t quite prepared to scratch a partial thought, because thought and its progress was part of what they were about. Blotting out wasn’t part of it. Listen to Bergström, though, and you find fascinating examples of improvisation that rigorously self-cancels as it goes along, overwriting one rhythmic figure with another, one fast run of notes overlaid on the previous one. Åstrand-Melin does something similar. He has the ability to build a weighty metre out of heavy floor sounds and clipped metal effects, but then to come off it so fast it’s still there in the mind as the next line comes in. Joacim Nyberg likewise. He sometimes lifts that bass free of the ground as if he were pulling up mandrakes, punctuating his own improvisations with sudden lacunae as startling as a car going over a bridge at speed. Mixed metaphors? Maybe, but that was another legacy of the Metaphysicals, the freedom to think of anything in terms of something else and to live comfortably with the jarring mismatch.
The point is that Correction are constantly alert to the flow and the sound of the music. One doesn’t get the sense with these guys of what some critics called Bill Evans’s ‘state of grace’, his out-of-body absorption in music so carefully worked through and ‘rehearsed’ it was second nature, in the same way that his trio colleagues were second, and third selves. Correction doesn’t work like that, and Mats Gustafsson certainly doesn’t work like that. The music here is neither ‘thoughtful’ in the chamber-jazz sense, nor ‘thought-filled’ in the sense of music in love with its own cleverness. It is in its essence of process of thought, most of it carried out with the fingers rather than left-side abstraction. Gustafsson is constantly alert to what his partners are doing. He plays for the group, enlarges, diminishes (and his ability to manage those extremes is only matched by the great Peter Brötzmann), refines an idea, inserts its dark twin, erases the whole lot with a black-toned blast and starts again.
If this is a process that happens ‘in the moment’, it might be thought that it belongs only in the moment, that the working out isn’t something one would want to repeat. The argument about documenting improvised music is now (surely?) pretty much settled. The apparent hierarchy of ‘live’ and recorded music is every bit as illusory as the hierarchy of oral over written communication. They are different. Neither is superior. Neither is necessarily prior. Listening to Gustafsson with Correction just once would be an exhilaration, but its subtleties and the sources of its power would be hard to retain and reconstruct. In its recorded form, it’s possible to follow the course of an idea from first appearance to climax or ultimate rejection, to reiterate the emergence of a groove. This is music that satisfies intellectually as well as viscerally. Its greatest satisfaction is that it is the product not just of inspiration by the Muse but of group interaction and exchange.
Swift’s Gulliver made other voyages, of course, and enough to show that all our cultural standards are relative and subject to sudden reversals of emphasis. It doesn’t much matter whether you consider ‘jazz’ to be the music of Houyhnhnms or Yahoos (this is the country Gulliver visited three hundred years ago, in 1712 and 1713), or the aery product of Laputa, where cross-grained strangeness reigns. What does matter is that in a field of music increasingly populated by Lilliputians, these guys are giants. — Brian Morton
LP version (incl. shipment cost world-wide)