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«Xylophonen Virtuosen»

«Xylophonen Virtuosen» is the definitive, expanded and remastered document of the meeting of two heavyweights of free improvisation – American guitarist and sound artist Jim O’rourke and Swedish reeds player Mats Gustafsson. The original album was recorded to 2- track at ACME Studios in Chicago in September 2019 and was released on Derek Bailey’s Incus Records later on the same year, with fewer, edited pieces, and in a different mix and master. The new version documents the complete session and is released for the first time on vinyl (double album with download option), with new cover art by Hanns Schimansky and mastered anew by O’Rourke.

At the time of recording «Xylophonen Virtuosen», O’Rourke already released the successful and iconic «Eureka» (Drag City, 1999) and just joined Sonic Youth. Gustafsson was leading at that time the AALY Trio and was solidifying his connection with the Chicagoan free and alternative scene with collaborations with Ken Vandermark (who joined the AALY Trio for two albums) and David Grubbs (who played with O’Rourke in Gaster del Sol). Later on, Gustafsson will continue to collaborate with Sonic Youth and with O’rourke and guitarist Thurston Moore, as the Diskhaolics Anonymous trio that released three albums, and with Moore till today.

«Xylophonen Virtuosen» is most likely the most intimate album of Gustafsson, and not only because of the duo format. Gustafsson’s duo albums with Moore or with fellow-Swedish guitarist David Stackenäs, are more intense and much wilder. O’Rourke – mostly fingerpicking an acoustic guitar and occasionally employs the accordion as a sound generator, and Gustaffson – on tenor sax, fluteophone and, flute, sound as paying their respects to the seminal influence of Bailey, as an innovative improviser and as a guitarist with a distinct sound of his own. The titles of the pieces on the original album already hinted at other homages – «Calling Patti», probably referring to Patti Smith, and «Smoke Signalling Polly Jean» to guitarist-singer-songwriter, P J Harvey (Gustafsson with The Thing covered Harvey’s «To Bring You My Love» on «She Knows…» with Joe McPhee, Crazy wisdom, 2001).

The ten duets sound like intimate talks between close friends. Abstract and minimalist, tender and contemplative talks, with strong folky-jazz spirit, full of nuanced sonic surprises and ornamented with quiet and nuanced dissonances produced by what O’Rourke and Gustafsson call “junk”. Gustaffson adapts wisely his extended breathing techniques to the fractured, and often cryptic guitar lines of O’Rourke, and both he and O’Rourke focus on the elusive colors and textures, «…Without Fire…», as one of the pieces is titled. Obviously, there is no xylophone or virtuoso shows here, and do not expect manic sax blowouts, guitar pyrotechnics or studio wizardry. «Xylophonen Virtuosen», then and now, 23 years later, simply highlights the imaginative, uncompromising sonic visions of both O’Rourke and Gustafsson.

Eyal Hareuveni  

Mats Gustafsson (tS, fluteophone, fl, junk), Jim O´Rourke (g, acc, junk)



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