Tag Archives: Mats Gustafsson

NoBusiness Records Brings the Past and Present of Avant-Jazz Together

No Business, Billy Bang

Billy Bang

Ten years into its existence, NoBusiness Records is widely regarded as one of the finest avant-jazz labels in the world. It’s especially renowned for its archival digs into the 1970s New York loft scene and its thoughtful curation of contemporary improvised music from around the world. Based in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius, the label grew out of founders Danas Mikailionis and Valerij Anosov’s concert promotions. With no Lithuanian label willing to put out the recordings of those concerts, the pair took matters into their own hands, egged on by Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, whose solo and group performances became NoBusiness’s first releases. “Mats encouraged us to start the label,” recalls Mikailionis. “He said that we needed to be bold and gave us some invaluable advice on how to deal with the press and distributors. Of course it started slowly, but we received very positive feedback and it started growing.”

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Ken Vandermark’s Indefatigable Drive and Avant-Garde Vision

Ken Vandermark

Photo by Andy Moor.

For more than two decades, the Chicago reedist, bandleader, and composer Ken Vandermark has served as something of a DIY icon, a fiercely independent musician pursuing improvisation with the same rigor and ferocity with which he conducts his own business. Chicago, of course, has a rich tradition of creative musicians taking charge of their affairs. In 1965, a group of iconoclastic, forward-looking musicians, including Muhal Richard Abrams, Anthony Braxton, and Roscoe Mitchell joined the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), taking charge of concert production and programming in order to have full, uncompromised control of their art. Vandermark, a Boston native who moved to Chicago in 1989, adapted many of those concepts for his own work in the early ‘90s, inspired as much by the punk ethos as the AACM’s model. The self-sufficient system he forged has not only fueled his own successes, but was crucial in reinvigorating avant-garde music in Chicago and abroad.

While free jazz and free improvisation have remained his bedrock concerns, his skill as a composer—both for small ensembles and large groups—has steadily grown in sophistication and effectiveness. Over the years, he’s gotten adept at harnessing a wide range of musical interests within his various projects—funk, noise, 20th Century classical music, reggae, African music, and more. For years, Vandermark would track down venues to present his own music, as well as other similarly inclined musicians, establishing residencies to develop new groups in front of youthful audiences.

He later launched an influential weekly jazz and improvised music series with the writer John Corbett at the legendary Chicago rock club Empty Bottle, which ambitiously presented the leading figures of the discipline from all around the world. “During that period, what I learned from seeing the shows and meeting the musicians was priceless, and in many cases led to future collaborations,” says Vandermark. Indeed, some of his earliest encounters with the likes of steady musical partners like Joe McPhee, Mats Gustafsson, and Peter Brötzmann were initiated through performances there. “Musicians from other cities and countries would reciprocate and help with gigs where they were based. I saw that organizing concerts was essential to building the music, for everyone, including me.”

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Strange and Perfect Connections: Mats Gustafsson at 50

Mats Gustafsson
Mats Gustafsson. Photo by Micke Keysendahl.

Saxophonist Mats Gustafsson is still somewhat embarrassed that a three-day festival—held at the Vienna club Porgy & Bess in October 2014—was essentially organized to celebrate his 50th birthday. The venue sponsors a few artist-in-residency projects each year, and it invited the Swedish native—who lives in Nickelsdorff, Austria—to participate. He mentioned that his birthday was nearing and that, perhaps, the residency could be connected to the occasion. “And then I immediately regretted it,” he jokes. “But I’m very happy it was done.”

Earlier this year, more than four hours of highlights from that extravaganza, which featured performances by the saxophonist with many notable collaborators, was released as a box set by Trost Records: MG50 Peace & Fire. It’s a spectacular collection of gritty, high-energy free improvisation jazz and experimental music from one of the most prolific and passionate figures in cutting-edge sounds of the last three decades. “It was still a focus on me, and I feel a bit uncomfortable when I look at the box sometimes,” he says. “But I have friends who convinced me it was a good thing to do.”

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