Exploding Customer

Live at Tapere Jazz Happening
booklet notes for Ayler aylCD-031

By Ken Waxman

Swedish saxophonist Martin Küchen just smiles when asked why his exciting Freebop quartet, Exploding Customer, has such an off-putting name. In the past he’s declared that “your name is only a practical necessity, a vessel carrying your stuff to the listeners waiting on the shores of craving for music. Music has nothing whatsoever to do with names; music is beyond fame, financial security and idolization.”

Certainly the veteran alto and tenor saxophonist, whose background has included everything from busking on the streets to working regularly in aggregations with such international sound explorers as British bassist Tony Wren, Norwegian percussionist Ingar Zach and German trumpeter Birgit Ulher, is committed to music above all else. Yet he certainly doesn’t mean any harm to the audience. Judging from the crowd’s enthusiastic reaction for this set, recorded at 2004’s Tampere (Finland’s) Jazz Happening, note that the only explosions in the customers resulting from this performance are those of spontaneous excitement as the band improvises.

Described as one of the surprise hit of that year’s festival, Exploding Customer was among heavy company when it appeared on the Jazz Happening’s second day. Also on the bill were such well-regarded performers as the Cosmosamatics, the Ravi Coltrane Quartet and the Fred Anderson-Hamid Drake duo. In contrast to these overseas heavy hitters, Exploding Customer offered its own variation of what could be called Scandinavian soul music, with the inspired rhythms of drummer Kjell Nordeson, the steady pump of bassist Benjamin Quigley and the virtuoso flights of trumpeter Tomas Hallonsten and Küchen on show.

Obstinately, Küchen insists that his compositions aren’t especially Swedish. As a matter of fact on many numbers, starting with the first track, “Mr BP (D)”, the pieces reflect that admixture of optimistic joy tinged with melancholy usually found in Klezmer music. Additionally, in personnel and in-your-face velocity, Exploding Customer at times resembles John Zorn’s Masada, if it was deracinated, or what would have happened if some of Art Blakey’s more advanced Jazz Messengers had taken a gig in a Catskills Mountains dance band.

Intrinsically though, Küchen’s nine tunes don’t – except superficially – resemble those of others. What they offer instead are his take on convinced contemporary Free Jazz, interpreted skillfully by his band mates. Instructively, he’s also beginning to build a band book. Two of the tunes, “Quoting Frippe: (What´s The Name Of The Bass Player?)” and “Broken Glass” are reprised from the band’s exceptional debut CD, Live at Glenn Miller Café (Ayler aylCD-030), recorded in 2002. Nevertheless, both 2004 versions are more intense and expansive than the earlier ones.

Not only does Quigley’s stentorian work on the former tune highlight him effortlessly plucking his way from the bass’s peg box to its spike, but both – and all the others – are propelled by Nordeson, commanding yet accommodating percussion patterns. That’s no surprise either. For the drummer – who elsewhere shows superior skill as a vibist – founded in 1986, with saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, one of the first new wave Sweden improv bands, the AALY Trio. Since then, he’s not only worked with the cream of local jazzers, but with international figures like German reedist Peter Brötzmann and as part of American saxophonist Ken Vandermark’s School Days band..

As Küchen suggests however, Exploding Customer, together since 1999, is more than the sum of the parts of two generations of Swedish improvisers’ skills and experience. The drummer and reedist’s bona fides are well-known, yet it’s possible that Quigley’s solid time-keeping, which he displays on every number, was shaped by his gigs with rock, ethnic and jazz bands. Hallonsten, who has a similar background to the bassist’s, with theatre gigs thrown in, may operate with the fleetness of a Freddie Hubbard in the Jazz Messengers and exhibit the sympathetic note-placement and listening skills of a Don Cherry from Ornette Coleman’s original quartet, but his interpretation encompasses a lot more.

Sheer power and confidence needed to match the irregular vibrations and multiphonic note-bending of Küchen on a tune like “Gone Herero” may come from the daily grind of work with pop bands. Nevertheless his solo construction on other tunes, that encompasses braying fanfares, half-valve dissertations and plunger growls, implies a conscious or instinctive familiarity with such pre-modern trumpet stylists as Cootie Williams and Rex Stewart of the Duke Ellington band and Ziggy Ellman, whose Klezmer-like timbres were part of Benny Goodman’s orchestra’s charm.

An analytical and somewhat pessimistic sort, as you can tell from his song titles, Küchen has every reason to be proud of this jazz band. As for the customers and listeners to this CD, repeated exposure may make them figuratively explode with admiration.

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Ken Waxman is a Toronto-based writer. Much of his commentary on jazz and improvised music can be found on Jazz Word, www.jazword.com .