ALBERTO PINTON/CLEAR NOW

Common Intent
m.m.p. CD 003

EXPLODING CUSTOMER
Live the Glenn Miller Café
Ayler aylCD-030

Proof — if any is still needed — of jazz’s universality comes with a quick rundown of the background of the musicians who make up Clear Now. Leader, reedman Albert Pinton was born in Venice, studied in Stockholm, at Berklee in Boston and New York’s Manhattan School of Music and now resides in Stockholm, where he’s a member of the Swedish Radio Jazz Orchestra as well as performing with other bands.

Indianapolis-born trumpeter and flugelhornist Kyle Gregory moved with his family to Verona, Italy in 1998. Since then he has played with, among others, bands featuring guitarist Simone Guiducci and American saxophonist Chris Speed. Surprisingly, both rhythm section members are native-born Italians, though bassist Salvatore Maiore — born in Sassari — has not only worked with ensembles led by Italians like Guiducci, but was also a member of Canadian-born, British trumpeter Kenny Wheeler’s Italian Quintet. Drummer Roberto Dani — born in Vicenza — has worked with locals like pianist Paolo Birro and Guiducci, but formed bands with Gregory, British vocalist Norma Winstone and French tuba player Michel Godard. Is all this clear?

Despite — or perhaps because of — the rootless cosmopolitanism of the quartet members, COMMON INTEREST is, as the title says, an unhyphenated showcase of consolidated freebop. If there is a criticism of the session, it’s that due to the multiplicity of tracks — 15 in slightly less than 51 minutes — each member isn’t allowed enough time to sufficiently bring his experience to bear on the music.

By the same token, impressive music can also come from a group of like-minded countrymen as EXPLODING CUSTOMER demonstrates. All of the band members are Swedish. Two — vibist/drummer Kjell Nordeson, who has been a member of the initially Umeå, Sweden-based AALY trio with saxophonist Mats Gustafsson since 1986, and saxophonist Martin Küchen, who has been active at the Swedish free improvised/Free Jazz scene since the mid-1990s — are veterans. Judging from their photos however, trumpeter Tomas Hallonsten and bassist Benjamin Quigley appear to be tyros. But this doesn’t mean that the music, recorded at Stockholm’s Glenn Miller Café, isn’t powerful and direct.

Clear Now’s disc contains many instances of exceptional playing from all concerned, most especially when Pinton unsheathes his tart-sounding baritone saxophone. Yet with fully 11 of the tunes in the one, two or three minute range, ideas are sometimes cut off before they can develop. Faced with a premier CD, it appears that the band members wanted to highlight everything they could do — instead of playing to their strengths.

In truth, the disc really doesn’t pick up steam until “The Limits of Communication”, where grotty baritone shakes, muted trumpet lines and bowed bass make the sounds soar. But at a tich more than 1½ minutes long, the piece doesn’t get to go anywhere. Much more impressive is the next track, “New Life”, where Pinton initially unaccompanied low saxophone uses a coating of multiphonics, tongue slaps and split tones to spread his tone over the piece like thick butter slathered on a piece of bread. Gregory’s buoyant legato trumpeting adds to the effect.

At times, on this and others tunes such as “Magnetism”, the blending of the horns sounds like a more modern version of baritonist Gerry Mulligan’s 1950s quartet with Chet Baker. Except that this trumpeter has a much firmer tone than Baker’s choked whisper and a better command of his axe. Elsewhere Dani’s uniform percussion asides and snazzy press rolls combine often enough with Maiore’s no-nonsense bass string buzzes to give the front line proper romping room. But neither uses it for empty posturing, with sawed-off brass snatches and biting baritone nips the order of the day.

Although the saxophonist’s heartfelt chalumeau register clarinet work is most effective on the ballad “Quiet Space”, merely concentrating on one or two of his horns may have been a better strategy. Flute playing — at least here — doesn’t seem to be his strong suit. Yet composition is, as he demonstrates on the rhythmic pieces like this one, where Gregory’s elastic muted trumpet — or is it flugelhorn? — tone arcs above the emotional horn line before the composition resolves itself into one of those effortless, funky swingers Joe Zawinul used to pump out for Cannonball Adderley.

Pinton’s wealth of experience also makes its presence felt on “What Next” a speedy number with a palpable Iberian cast. Here modal time sense enlivens the drum rolls and trumpet fanfares, providing a platform for heavily accented low notes from the sax man. This seems like a definite musical avenue he can explore.

“What next?” is also the question that can be asked about Clear. There’s nothing to be ashamed about on this disc; however the band is still a bit featureless. Still the session provides advanced expectation for a new CD the group is recording late this year. If slack can be tightened as each member is given more room in which to work, the sophomore effort should be something to savor.

Perhaps a live club situation could be considered. Certainly Glen Miller’s exuberant crowd seems to spur Exploding Customer — what a name! — to a high level of excitement. Instructively the quartet also only works out on a mere seven tunes in course of this nearly 63-minute CD, with the shortest a little less than 5½ minutes and the two longest past the 10½-minute mark.

All were written by Küchen, who plays soprano, alto and tenor saxophone and like Pinton is one of those unjustly unheralded journeymen who keeps the improv scene percolating. The leanings of this Stockholm resident are a bit more outside though. Küchen has also worked with a cross section of other Euro improvisers including German drummer Burkhard Beins, Norwegian guitarist David Stackenäs, British bassist Tony Wren and fellow Swede, percussionist Raymond Strid.

Paradoxically while Nordeson, because of his American connections — not to mention his spectacular rock-hard syncopation— may be the best known Swede on the date, and all the music is the saxophonist’s, it’s Hallonsten who emerges as the most impressive soloists. Someone who is still exploring the dance, poetry and theatre scenes and dabbling in electronics, he’s involved with other bands in Stockholm, including his own quartet.

Despite the tunes here being firmly in the freebop axis, except for a single barnyard cock’s crow, Hallonsten avoids the screaming, sometimes tasteless split tones in which Küchen sometimes indulges. His stock in trade ricochets between Cootie Williams-style plunger work and a flowing open-horn tone. At times his note bending reminds you of an outside Kenny Dorham, or of Ted Curson at his most adventurous, during his stint with Charles Mingus.

That band, featuring Eric Dolphy, and Ornette Coleman’s quartet with Charlie Haden and Ed Blackwell, seem to provide many of the parameters of the work here. Although Quigley has odd moments when he bows his bass in upper and lower registers, most of his time is taken up building a solid, Haden-like 4/4 foundation on which the front line can build. The drummer’s talent is such as well, that he never brings attention to himself with unusual percussion forays — rolls, rim shots and cross sticking still make sure the beat is solid. And you can tap your feet to the proceedings.

Küchen appears to have a weakness of Kelzmer-style Eastern European rhythms, the better to smear his split tone explorations all over the piece. “Pygmi”, with its ragged African-like street rhythm, for instance, allows him to get into pronounced multiphonics, which are answered with plunger growls from Hallonsten. Eventually the two sound out the theme a half step apart, the brassman trilling and purring and the saxist flutter tonguing. This duality becomes even more pronounced on “A Broken Glass”, whose melancholy theme is carried by an unvarying rhythm section beat. Trumpet lines shake with a bluesy underpinning, as Küchen goes off on extended triple tonguing and Dolphyesque alto runs, which at times resembles the Woody Woodpecker song.

Distinctive nasal tones characterize the saxophonist’s approach to his three horns, which attest to his originality even if they appear somewhat out of place as on his pseudo-Argentinean “Tango du Prison”. What was he doing “in a Swedish prison in the beginning of 1995” anyway? Here the reedman’s flutter tonguing turns to growls as unites with the trumpeter’s high-pitched variations.

Fine, well-played improvisations, EXPLODING CUSTOMER is constantly exciting. It also introduces outside his country, a trumpeter who bears careful watching.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Common: 1. Improvisation IV/IV 2. Basics 3. Hope and Will [to Alessandro] 4. The Limits Of Communication [a short reflection] 5. New Life [to my children] 6. Magnetism 7. Urgency [to Hamiet Bluiett] 8. Where We Live [to Marghera, my birthplace] 9. Improvisation III/IV 10. Aspiring To [to Joe Viola, teacher, mentor; a great human being] 11. C-Melody 12. Quiet Space [a refuge, a resting place to gather new strength] 13. What Next 14. Further Reflections 15. Improvisation I/IV

Personnel: Common: Kyle Gregory (trumpet, flugelhorn, Bb piccolo trumpet); Alberto Pinton (baritone saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet, alto flute); Salvatore Maiore (bass); Roberto Dani (drums)

Track Listing: Exploding: 1. Samael/Smash Hits On Several Exits (we won’t let you in!) 2. Quoting Frippe: (what’s the name of the bass player?) 3. Pygmi 4. A Broken Glass 5. Corsican Train 6. Tango du Prison 7. Speak!

Personnel: Exploding: Tomas Hallonsten (trumpet); Martin Küchen (soprano, alto and tenor saxophones); Benjamin Quigley (bass); Kjell Nordeson (drums)