HANS KOCH/MARTIN SCHUTZ/FREDY STUDER

Life Tied
Intakt CD 094

Almost 15 years after they first conceived of the appellation “hard core chamber music”, the sounds of Swiss trio Koch-Shütz-Studer (KSS) seem to have presaged a lot of what today flies under the banner of modern improv.

These eight performances, recorded in Venice, New York and a couple of Swiss locations between 2001 and 2003 show a mastery of melding jazz-style improv with harder rock-style beats and effects, plus shifting electronic impulses. At the same time the impulses from Hans Koch’s reeds and electronics, Martin Schütz’s cellos and electronics plus Fredy Studer’s percussion are now so linked that it’s difficult to hear where one ends and the next begin. Unlike some of KSS’s disappointing recent collaborations with rappers and the like, LIFE TIED impresses by putting in bold relief what the basic trio can do.

Similarly, you couldn’t ask for a more appropriate example of this than the title track. Initially, primitivistic gong and conga drum-like beats are extended with electronics side bands as Koch vibrates juicy chalameau clarinet tones. These snorting reed slurs accelerate and are met by Studer manipulating the rims and sides of his drums at a slightly slower pace that is soon joined by Schütz’s walking bass line. Nerve beat and snare top pummeling take on a snaky electronic mist as the other two push out squeaks and slides. Squealing vulture-like cries from Koch interrupt the drummer’s steady flams and reverberations as do fuzz-tone buzzes. Finally the piece concludes with an amplifier drone.

Other tracks showcase further sound permutations such as “In drei akten” and “Vom verschwinden”.The first features complex, shimmering electronic loops bisected by split tone reed smears that turn to tongue-slapping pulses. These modules are augmented still more into double time as cello plucks and rhythmic drum patterns appear. In the penultimate minutes Studer’s metronomic time keeping turns into a modified back beat, Schütz’s strings introduce sideband signals and Koch seems to be breathing out a straight obbligato that intersects with (pre-recorded) curved repetitive stops.

More outer space-like then the watery output of the first, the latter piece focuses on constantly turning percussion impulses that are evidently trying for a non-terrestrial connection through wiggling, synthesizer-style lines. Meanwhile the other two players are squeaking microtones at one other. In Koch’s case, short tongue-slaps flutter on top of twittering, ever-changing wave forms from Schütz until growling colored air meets the occasional legato cello line. Glottal stops and whistles eventually disperse into disappearing breaths.

Other sounds include percussion and string combinations that sound like a Thalys train at full throttle; airy, arching, flutter-tongued squeals overlaying sideband oscillation from Koch; and animal-like spiccato squeaks as if a dirty cloth is being harshly tugged up and down on the cello’s strings.

Now that the rest of the improv world has caught up with them, it will be interesting to see what future tricks Koch-Shütz-Studer introduce to displace the now expected hard core chamber music sounds.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. No time for dinner 2. In drei akten 3. The burning tongue 4. Last rubber 5. Life tied 6. Comes and gones 7. The whispering and hammering ritual 8. Vom verschwinden

Personnel: Hans Koch (soprano and tenor saxophones, bass clarinet and electronics; Martin Schütz (electric 5-string cello, acoustic cello and electronics); Fredy Studer (drums and percussion)