Woah, a new solo album from the mighty Mats Gustafsson; surely this will be a loud exhibition of powerful saxophone, the sound of one man squawking his lungs up through his instrument, the sort of record to set alongside solo albums by the likes of his sometime collaborator Peter Brotzmann. Well, no. Not at all. This isn’t a solo record by the Mats Gustafsson who plays with Brotzmann or indeed in his usual band The Thing. So is it a solo record by the Mats Gustafsson who plays live electronics with Sonic Youth? Actually, it isn’t quite that either. Perhaps it is best to think of this, as in fact the label (the consistently excellent Dancing Wayang) does, as a “duo” album: an album by two duelling Gustafssons with the sound made by the saxophonist Mats being slashed at by the electronics of the other Mats until it is disfigured way beyond the point where it could be recognised by Adolphe Sax himself.
So this really isn’t a regular solo sax album. Even when Gustafsson is playing his horn on Needs!, he isn’t doing so in anything approaching a conventional fashion. The source sounds he is more interested in are breath and clicks; he processes these in real time and adds layers of overdubs, moments of extreme quiet meeting moments of abrasive noise. The staccato saxophone pops at the start of the title track are quickly consumed by electronic static, so much so that this begins to sound more like an album that you’d find displayed with the power electronics records in Second Layer, rather than in the jazz racks of Honest Jons, which is in fact where I picked it up from. Serrated, crunchy shards of visceral noise are continuously and vigorously rubbed into your eardrums, if it wasn’t for the gasping for breath (Gustafsson usually, me sometimes) I feel I could be listening to Wolf Eyes at times. The album even teases you with a title like “Ethiopian Swing”, making you think that it might be a piece inspired by his work with The Ex, riffing on one of their Getatchew Mekuria pieces. Of course, it is nothing of the sort, it sounds more like an angry man letting the air out of a balloon whilst trapped inside a huge empty iron tank. The title of “It’s Amore” is similarly misleading, leading you to follow the tiny winding metallic percussive trails that are being used to lure you into the depths of this most fascinating sound world, for Needs! is one of the most dynamic and sonically inventive things I’ve heard this year. God bless Mats Gustafsson. Both of them.