Yandsen / Meaas Svendsen / Nilssen-Love
Hungry Ghosts

This single-take performance, just shy of 40 minutes, features saxophonist Yong Yandsen, drummer Paal Nilssen Love and bass player Christian Meaas Svendsen – all familiar names in these parts – and was recorded in Malaysia in 2018. Released on Svendsen’s Nakama label, the recording serves as a vehicle for his Buddhist interests previously explored on his epic trilogy New Rituals. Whereas that cycle delved deep into interpretations of glossolalic zen chanting, this trio recording – a fairly ‘straight’ improvised live set – carries the weight of a potent cultural signifier, the Hungry Ghost. In certain traditions, these beings are the spiritual remnants of persons who have died in unfortunate circumstances or with a terrible karmic balance sheet. In afterlife terms, they’re the lowest of the low: roaming hell and sometimes earth in a state of perpetual craving. Yandsen, Svendsen and Love are apparently content to masquerade as these desperate beings and the music is, appropriately enough, intense and often quite demanding.

Things burst into flight with Yandsen in the lead, storming the eardrums with the non-stop roiling of a young stellar body. I’ve a lot of time for this adept post-Abe/Ayler saxophonist, whose verve for dissonant free association many of today’s gung-ho improvisors could learn from. He shrieks his way through the first 12-odd minutes convincingly enough to establish this as his show, despite its billing as a showdown between Love and Svendsen. It’s an exhilarating opening that I wish wouldn’t let up but let up it does – trailing off into quieter, more mystifying asides in which bass and drums get a bit more inquisitive; periodically re-emerging without having added much of interest. While Love and Svendsen are both inventive players (though the drummer’s tentative relationship with structure makes him more of an acquired taste), on this occasion they occupy more of a support role for Yandsen so there’s less of them to relish than on their other pet projects. Overall, there’s enough sizzle to balance out the fizzle, but more of Yandsen’s virtue is needed for this entity to achieve a truly favourable reincarnation.