The Free Jazz Collective – Mats Gustafsson & Craig Taborn – Ljubljana ****½

By Eyal Hareuveni

Ljubljana is the 400th release of the Portuguese label and it celebrates this occasion with a special vinyl album that documents the first ever musical meeting between Gustafsson and American pianist Craig Taborn at the 2015 edition of the Ljubljana Jazz Festival. Gustafsson referred to this meeting as “a kick in the ass”, even begged afterwards: “please, give me more challenges like this one, in order to keep my sanity!”

Ljubljana does sounds like a meeting where some mean blows and kicks were exchanged. A muscular wrestling of heavy-weights champions of spontaneous improvisations, both as serious as their lives. Gustafsson sets the confronting tone of the first side, “The Eyes Moving. Slowly”, with dense and volcanic attacks of his baritone sax. But just when it sounds likeTaborn surrenders unconditionally to Gustafsson’s lava flow he surprises and turns the intense course to a sparse and reserved meditation. Even on these quiet moments, before both resume the dense and powerful interplay, the tone is raw and rough and far as possible from the refined and polished one that can be found on Taborn’s ECM albums, including the new Daylight Ghosts.

After establishing their rapport, the second side, “The Ears Facing the Fantasies. Again”, offers an open exchange of ideas. Both sound as enjoying exploring each other’s territory, disrupting its sonic scenery, exchange themes and alternate between improvisation strategies, even bare some fragile, melodic qualities when Gustafsson picks the slide saxophone. Both correspond immediately to each other’s gestures and never exhaust this playful and demanding process. Needless to say, the neither Gustafsson or Taborn feel any need to compromise or blur their distinct, strong-minded personalities.


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