Boomkat Product Review:
Prolific Swedish saxophonist and composer Mats Gustafsson's most ambitious project yet, 'Hidros 9 - Mirrors' is a continuation of 2019's 'Hidros o.T', and uses artist Mathias Pöschl's mirrored forms to inspire a composition for 27 musicians: two nine-member "mirror" ensembles, and a group of soloists that includes the great Colin Stetson.
Gustafsson has been working on his Hidros project since 1997, when he recorded 'Hidros One' in Stockholm with nine improvisers, tape and conductor. He's expanded its scope over the years, but still sticks to the same set of rules: each session is a composed improvisation that uses graphic scores, with each exploring a new theme and using a fresh set of players. He's approached the music of Little Richard ('Hidros 6 - Knockin'), dedicated a set to Patti Smith ('Hidros 3') and untangled Frank Zappa ('Hidros 7 - Zap'), and now he's trying something a bit different. 'Hidros 9 - Mirrors' uses art as its guide, drawing from Pöschl's unusual structures and attempting to map those cracked mirrors to the music. To manage this, Gustafsson used an ensemble from Norway and one from Poland, with another set of soloists. As conductor, he controlled these three distinct instrumental groups with three types of graphical scores, predetermining tempo, dynamics and sonic density but leaving room for improvisation.
We get our first good example of the technique on 'Mirrors 1', that neatly winds the three ensemble's electronic elements around stark instrumental scrapes, knocks and blasts. Gustafsson is careful not to overwhelm the senses; Pöschl's art is subtle and gestural, and the music follows this guide, rarely lapsing into the skronky free jazz blowout that you might expect. Rhythmic ticking sounds are diffused into subterranean horn warbles, and when Stetson's unmistakable solo cuts through, it's like a burst of light in the darkness. It doesn't last too long, and we're back to faint clunks and ricochets again, lying in wait for Hedvig Mollestad's distorted, blues-tinted riffs.
Each piece follows a similar formula, but the instrumentation is flipped: on 'Shadows 2' we can hear Ida Løvli Hidle and Zbigniew Chojnacki on accordion, Dieb13's turntable manipulations and Jerome Noetinger's reel-to-reel tape scratches; on 'Reflection' the string section gets its moment to shine, building confidently alongside experimental electronic gurgles; and on 'Echoes 1', Per-Åke Holmlander's tuba goes toe-to-toe with acidic noise and wonked cello. Needless to say, if you fancy hearing what it sounds like at the intersection of free improv, musique concrète, classical minimalism and turntablism, 'Hidros 9 - Mirrors' has you covered.