UNSOLICITED MUSIC ENSEMBLE

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SLAMCD 250

Restrained chamber jazz of the highest gauge, this Pan-European effort unveils seven expanded improvisations from the first-ever tour of this Swedish-British trio. A mini-symphony of protracted tones, the sounds are remarkable since each of the players defines himself as one interlocking part of the whole.

Thus there’s no such thing as a saxophone solo, a bass solo or a drum solo per se. Instead sounds arise which can be ascribed to individual instruments, but which add to the soundscape without bringing undue attention to the player.

Historically, this collectivist approach has been a particular British virtue, yet the Swedes outnumber the Brit here two to one. Similarly the Unsolicited Music Ensemble (UME) is notable because it represents three generations of Euro improvisers.

British bassist Tony Wren is oldest of the three, with experience that goes back to the band Chamberpot with violinist Phil Wachsmann in the 1970s. Wren has stayed up-to-date and now plays in the improv Quatuor Accord. Percussionist Raymond Strid came to prominence in the 1980s in various bands with fellow Swede saxophonist Mats Gustafsson and since then has worked in groups with American pianist Marilyn Crispell and British bassist Barry Guy. Swedish soprano and baritone saxophonist Martin Küchen is in the band Exploding Customer with AALY trio percussionist Kjell Nordeson and has also played with Strid and Gustafsson.

Putting aside the bone fides, it’s good that unlike some musicians, Küchen listed exactly which reeds he plays. His technique is such that it’s often impossible to assign with certainty a particular tone to a particular instrument. As a matter of fact, there are times when it’s not complement transparent whether some sounds originate in Küchen’s horn, Strid miscellaneous percussion or Wren’s strings. Most of the time UME can be regarded as one six-armed beast.

But while the approach is definitely minimalist, it isn’t precious. Thus you can hear the saxophonist breath as he applies his lips, throat and lungs to a particular passage and you can perceive when the percussionist sails unselected cymbals across the floor. Occasionally you can also detect the bass line that Wren is distilling. Self-effacing to a fault, unless there’s a woody recoil or a buzzing string introduced into the mix, his rhythmic undercurrent is more felt than heard. If necessary, of course, he can bounce the bow off the strings for a particular effect, chop out an arco drone or even strum the bass like a large guitar. In the aural spotlight, the pressure put on his strings makes it sound as if they’re made out of heavy gauge steel.

Küchen’s skills are more obvious. Although there are times BritImprov near- inaudibility overcomes him, most of the time, he can find extended techniques for his purposes. Quick as necessary he can turn from baritone sax drones, sinus-clearing blats and basso bellows and snorts to higher-pitched, duck-like quacks, reed kisses and adenoidal, split-tone obbligatos from the soprano. There’s even points where his horn work sounds as if it was issuing from a metal harmonica, or when a protracted undertone morphs into a metallic buzz in such a way that it appears as if the mouthpiece is being played without a reed.

General utility man Strid often practices percussion interruptus, stressing a resonance for a short time, then cutting it off before it overwhelms the others. Rather than clattering the cymbals he caresses them delicately, making them sound like rolling dice, or he’ll produce a vibration that could be the ringing bell of a toy train. He can create a proper bass drum pedal thump and rub sounds from his snare and toms with his fingers, but whether what appears to be sawing wood should be ascribed to him or the saxman is open to question.

Recorded in chronological order, the CD’s final track shows how these expansive techniques had been redefined as the trio played together even more. Here, at times, it sounds as if Küchen’s distinctive tones are being produced underwater; Wren’s rhythm-defining low-pitched pizzicato lines arise from only slightly above sea level; with Strid introducing the elevated colors available from bells, triangle and toy xylophone to lighten the mood. By the time the almost-12 minute piece has come to an end though, reverberating snares, staccato reed chirps and hedgehogs scratches has made it come alive.

Ignore the band’s name, but not its sounds. Once you hear this disc, you’ll probably decide that its music is anything but unsolicited.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Fjarilsamaryllis 2. Capsules 3. Mandelbrot and Julia 4. Small Edison Screw 5. Onion shallot garlic chive 6. Mecablitz 7. Bongardia Chrysogonum

Personnel: Martin Küchen (soprano and baritone saxophones, objects); Tony Wren (bass); Raymond Strid (drums and percussion)