For all of the music that is currently available to us from Swedish multi-instrumentalist Mats Gustafsson, it would be difficult to call up an area of his output that does not have its own unique appeal. The recorded work of his nine-piece ensemble, "Nu-Ensemblen" is no exception. In forming the ensemble, Gustafsson utilized his own working trio, Gush—himself with Sten Sandell and Raymond Strid—a group capable of unmistakable texture and accents in its music.
It is safe to say that his inspiration for the Nu-Ensemblen drew heavily from the fruits of the London Jazz Composers Orchestra—whose body of work has been stimulating young and old improvising minds alike for decades—even if Gustafsson's approach is in a category of its own. Safer yet is that the substructure of Hidros One originates from the chalk-and-sweat (and sometimes blood) drawings of Danish visual artist, John Olsen. "Hidros one" = sweat.
Of course, this is not the first occasion that visual arts have inspired music. George Russell has used such imagery in building his music, as has Duke Ellington, the latter of who directed Charles Mingus and Max Roach, on Money Jungle, to call their minds to the human zoo/industrial jungle for thematics. While Hidros One relies heavily upon the composer's own assimilations of Olsen's ideals, how we interpret the music is another thing entirely.
In comparison to other creative ensembles of the past ten years, the soundscape affected by Gustafsson's would be a negative image, were we to look at a graphic representation the noise spectrum itself. Hidros One is a work of metallic forays and air-driven pulses, rather than linear composition utilizing scales and layered natural tones from the instruments. There are, however, exceptions. "A, B, C, D, E" might be the closest Gustafsson has ever come to modal composition. It is the most attractive track on the disc, a slow, melodic, eight-minute crescendo that begins with Sten Sandell establishing the pattern on the higher end of a pipe organ. The track is a morose, circular ascent that magnetically attracts the meandering instrumentation to a nuclear core. When Fredrik Ljungkvist joins on clarinet, the essence of the piece is revealed to us: pure aesthetic pleasure, nothing more. "A, B, C, D, E, F" is a violent, free composition that features the entire ensemble going for broke. The final segment of the composition is curious, to say the least; a looped and multi-tracked tape of boots plodding through cold snow. The unaware might mistake the noises for herbivores at a salad bar, but, nonetheless, John Corbett's stream-of-conscious liner notes refer to it as "anti-sweat", a crucial component to the objectives of the program.
The character of Hidros One owes musically to the presence of Sten Sandell. The tracks on which he lays out leave us with a void, where the ears miss what they have grown comfortably accustomed to. Though as a whole, the record is an intriguing paragon of sonic extremes, driven by abstract ideas. It's an extraordinary offering from a musician who has conquered the element of surprise.