36th Vilnius Jazz Festival. 12-16 October, 2022

Mats Gustafsson - Liudas Mockūnas

Sweden-Lithuania

Mats Gustafsson – saxes, fl
Liudas Mockūnas – saxes, cls

The Vilnius Jazz evening dedicated to the Improdimensija movement continues with two exceptional figures of free jazz and improvised music, who have already met on Lithuanian stages several times in the last decade, including the Improdimensija series.

The ingenious explorers of the saxophone sound, M. Gustafsson and L. Mockūnas, share the same superb skills of instrument control, a wide arsenal of extended playing techniques and the courage to take risks. Popping, clonking, bleeping, sound fading, seas of tones and overtones, subtle games with the instrument’s valves – this is just a small part of the two musicians’ extraordinarily rich musical vocabulary.

Mats and Liudas are unquestionable masters of their craft, for whom the words “limits” and “impossible” do not exist. Playing different saxophones and clarinets, and also flute in Mats’ case, the musicians draw their own boundaries wherever they feel comfortable. But even when they reach extreme peaks, they manage to surprise both themselves and others by rising even higher.

Gustafsson and Mockūnas’ performance on the Vilnius Jazz stage will not only be an attempt to go higher. The musicians will also present the duo’s new album, recorded in November 2022 at the legendary Vilnius Record Studio. Festival guests will be the first to get to buy the album.

Mats Gustafsson is one of the most prominent names on the European contemporary music scene, held in the highest esteem by music lovers around the world. In over three decades-long career he has recorded a great number of albums with myriads of different groups, has developed an idiosyncratic way of playing the saxophone and established himself as a saxophonist of wide artistic horizons.

Gustafsson constantly emphasises the never-ending process of shaping his own sound, in which many different experiences and influences converge. He draws inspiration not only from the coryphées of free jazz, but also from classical, folk, electronic, rock and contemporary academic music. In his creative path, he maintains a respectful relationship with the musical traditions of the past, while enthusiastically diving into the wide contemporary experimental waters.

Gustafsson does not try to imitate classical genre traditions or follow new trends. On the contrary, he weaves a unique musical tapestry of his own, whose patterns are the distinct signature of the weaver.

The uniqueness and versatility of this artist is attested not only by his concert geography and appearances at prestigious festivals (Moldejazz, Roadburn, Unsound, Sonore, FAQ, A L’ARME!, Sonic City, etc.), but also by his impressive discography of more than half a thousand different records. It includes not only outstanding solo recordings, but also collaborative albums with stars of the stature of Peter Brötzmann, Joe McPhee, Ken Vandermarkt, Mette Rasmussen, Colin Stetson and Jim O’Rourke, Craig Taborn, Agusti Fernandez, Misha Mengelberg, Derek Bailey, Barry Guy, Hamid Drake, Brian Chippendale, Merzbow, bands like Sonic Youth, The Ex and ZU.

The improviser writes music for solo saxophone, live electronics, ensembles and orchestras, sound installations, collaborates with contemporary dancers and visual artists, theatre companies and people of letters. In addition, he acts as a curator of the Swedish Concert Institute projects, an adviser for various festivals; has greatly contributed to the reestablishment of the Association of Free Improvised Music in Sweden.

He has enjoyed commissions by the Swedish Concert Institute, the Swedish National Radio, Umeå-based Norrlands Operans Symfoniorkester, Klangforum Wien and various other festivals and institutions. His compositions were performed by Copenhagen Art Ensemble, Trondheim Improvisers Ensemble and Trondheim Voices, Peter Brötzmann Tentet and Thurston Moore Sonic Youth among other groups.

His name is associated with more than 20 formations. One of the most notable is the trio The Thing, as well as Fire! Orchestra, which has appeared in the Vilnius Jazz.

Gustafsson was born in Umeå, Northern Sweden. His first instrument was the flute, but by his early teens Gustafsson was playing saxophone and his creation, the fluteophone – a sort of hybrid of flute and saxophone. He started with playing in punk and jazz-rock groups. In 1982, he got interested in improvised music and began collaborating with drummer Kjell Nordeson, who would later form the AALY Trio with Gustafsson.

Gustafsson moved to Stockholm in the mid-‘80s and formed Gush Trio with Sten Sandell and Raymond Strid. Later he met German drummer Paul Lovens, who became Gustafsson’s partner in various NU formations.

His international recognition was prompted by collaboration with Berlin-based Sven-Åke Johansson as well as Derek Bailey’s Company in London. At that time, he joined the Peter Brötzmann Tentet, becoming a regular in the Chicago improvising community, working extensively with Hamid Drake and Ken Vandermark, among others.

In 2000, together with Thurston Moore and Jim O’Rourke he formed Diskaholics Anonymous Trio, started collaborating with Sonic Youth rock group, joined Barry Guy’s New Orchestra and continued working with The Thing.

Gustafsson has received the Swedish Royal Academy of Music Grand Prix of Jazz (2004), Expressen’s Spelmannen Prize (2004) and the prestigious Nordic Council Music Prize (2011). He was repeatedly voted the best jazz artist of the year in Sweden.

Liudas Mockūnas is one of the most distinctive saxophonists not only in Lithuania, but also in Europe and around the world. This musician amazes audiences with his impressive playing technique and unique musical ideas. On stage, he shines with the brightest colours. From his saxophone or clarinet, not only do pianissimos as fragile as the first snowflakes pour out, but also fortissimos that sweep away everything like a typhoon.

The brass virtuoso from Panevėžys has been firmly in the ranks of the world’s improvised and jazz music elite for many years. He is undoubtedly the most dynamic Lithuanian composer, constantly migrating through the festivals and clubs on different continents, sharing the stage with such giants as Agusti Fernandez, Marc Ducret, William Hooker, Samuel Blaser, Ryoji Hojito, Otomo Yoshihide, Kazutoki Umezu, Akira Sakata, Peter Evans, Nate Wooley, Barry Guy and others.

The musician collaborates with Pierre Dørge and his New Jungle Orchestra, Jacob Anderskov, Nils Davidsen, Mats Eilertsen, Mikko Innanen, Mark Solborg, Jonas Westergaard, Jakob Riis, Jaak Sooäär, Hugo Carvalhais, Vladimir Tarasov, Vladimir Chekasin, Arkady Gotesman, and many other intriguing jazz musicians. He has taken part in programmes of Andrew Hill’s Jazz Par octet, Ibrahim Electric, British TrioVD, Free Tallinn Trio, Raymond Strid and Frank Gratkowski among other jazz innovators. He is constantly discovering new creative partners in Scandinavia, Baltic States, Poland, Russia, Portugal and other countries.

A graduate of the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre (LAMT) and the Rhythmic Music Conservatory in Copenhagen instantly took active stance on the European improvised music scene. In 2004, he and Stefan Pasborg received the Danish Music Award for Toxikum’s album. The saxophonist is a prize winner of various competitions in Lithuania, Latvia and France, a recipient of Vilnius Jazz and Birštonas Jazz prizes for contribution to Lithuanian jazz, as well as “Golden Disc” awarded by the Lithuanian Musicians’ Union.

In 2011, he was decorated with a “Golden Cross of the Stage” (award for achievements in the Lithuanian theatre field) for the best music for theatre production. Moreover, Mockūnas has written music for Copenhagen Art Ensemble, Klaipėda Chamber Orchestra and Chordos String Quartet. In addition, he is famed as an expert of contemporary academic music. His repertoire includes works by such composers as Bronius Kutavičius, Anatolijus Šenderovas, Arvydas Malcys, Vyacheslav Ganelin, Dietrich Eichmann, Vykintas Baltakas, Raminta Šerkšnytė, Giedrius Puskunigis, Osvaldas Balakauskas and Vytautas Germanavičius. He is a member of contemporary music ensembles Gaida and Konvoj Art. In addition, he is an associate of the Lithuanian Ensemble Network.

As a soloist he has performed with Kralovy Hradec Symphony Orchestra, the Lithuanian State and Lithuanian National symphony orchestras as well as St. Christopher and Klaipėda chamber orchestras, and Chordos String Quartet. With various formations he has toured in Europe, the USA, China, Japan and Israel.

In 2021, Mockūnas crowned his work in the fields of contemporary and classical music with the monumental album Polylogues. His discography amounts to around 70 albums. In 2008, the record label NoBusiness Records, founded together with two associates – Valerij Anosov, owner of the music firm Thelonious, and jazz aficionado Danas Mikailionis, was awarded the Vilnius Jazz 2020 prize for contributions to Lithuanian Jazz.

Mockūnas is an associate professor at the Jazz Department of the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre, generator (with composer Vykintas Baltakas) of the Contemporary Music/Improvised Music Master Program. The students of this program have established themselves as the vanguard of the Improdimensija movement and have become a true driving force of Vilnius’ underground life.  

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