Martin Küchen Trio

Live at Glen Miller Café
booklet notes for Ayler aylCD-054

By Ken Waxman

Epitome of the improvising musician who “never plays the same thing once”, Swedish alto and tenor saxophonist Martin Küchen is Scandinavia’s pre-eminent trickster – Free Music division.

Someone who started off as a busker, performing in streets, marketplaces and subways throughout Northern Europe, over the years he’s maintained this try-anything ethos, working with poets, dancers and experimental filmmakers as well as free improvisers of many backgrounds and nationalities. Among his regular aggregations are Swedish-based Cloudchamber and Sound of Mucous which explore the margins of noise; the German/Norwegian/Swedish UNSK that emphasizes the textures of electronics; and those bands which expand on circumscribed FreeBop like the all-Swedish Exploding Customer, whose exciting live performances are on Ayler aylCD-030 and Ayler aylCD-031. Each Küchen CD starts afresh, with the reedist adapting his music to new circumstances as he did as a street performer.

Recorded in April of 2006 at a Stockholm jazz club, Live at Glen Miller Café is forward-looking while connected to the Free Jazz tradition. The fervent music on the CD reassembles and reconstitutes in a novel fashion the near-atonal group advances of older saxophonists such as Albert Ayler, Peter Brötzmann and Ornette Coleman. As importantly, the performances are never strident or unpalatable.

An all-Scandinavian outing, Stockholm-based Küchen is joined here by Swedish drummer Raymond Strid – his associate in UNSK – and young Norwegian-Italian bassist Per Zanussi. Oslo-based Zanussi, performs in a clutch of other modern jazz combos, and leads the Zanussi Five which mixes melodic Western Swing with Free Jazz and has him matching wits with three different saxophone players. Besides his partnership with Küchen, veteran Strid is one of the percussionist in British bassist Barry’s Guy’s New Orchestra; a charter member of the Free Music/Electronica combo Gush, with fellow Swedes saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, pianist Sten Sandall and Ugandan-British string player Phil Wachsmann; as well as a part of the exceptional pan-European Electrics quartet found on Ayler aylCD-034 and Ayler aylCD-035.

In this program of three quirkily-titled Küchen tunes and two group improvisations, the saxophonist may be the primary composer, but his playing doesn’t dominate the others’ work. Each man gets sufficient solo space, with large portions of the descriptively titled “Zanussi Times” and “Strid Comes” given over to the musician of the title.

Küchen’s sole tenor sax foray, “Strid Comes” is in the tradition of 1960s Energy Music. Here the reedist’s wide-vibrato, fortissimo and altissimo overblowing, along with verbal exhortations, encourage the drummer to play without restraint. He does. Beginning with a surge of a capella flams, bounces and rebounds, Strid requisitions the nearly 10-minute piece for his own rhythms, using nerve beats, cadenced pops and rolls. His ecstatic power fortifies the saxophonist’s throat-scraping split tones to reach surging multiphonic waves.

Appropriately double-bass directed, “Zanussi Times” pulsates throughout with wooden-sounding col legno emphasis and concentrated walking bass note clusters. As the trio members play in broken octaves, Strid marshals cross-sticking pulses and ruffs, while Küchen, the trickster, expands on two of his reed personas. With twisted, pitch-sliding smears, one is a close cousin to 1960s Sonny Rollins, complete with emphasized phrases; the other highlights Woody Woodpecker-like hiccups and forceful stallion neighs. Seemingly trading phrases with himself, the saxophonist speedily note slides until the finale, when the tune’s honoree slackens the tempo.

Or take the powerful “The Indispensable Warlords”, where guitar-like strumming from the bassist and stratified drum beats allow Küchen to stretch trilling lines with basso growls and double tongued squeals. Elsewhere on the CD, he showcases spurts of unaccompanied near Boppish line or skeletal, pressured multiphonics, as the others construct interactive strategies. Appropriately enough for a live date, the climax arrives with the final track

Enigmatically entitled “No. 8”, this group composition accentuates many of the earlier trio interactions. As a harsh, double-stopping tremolo introduction from Zanussi evolves to clanging spiccato interface, Strid pops and slams his drums and Küchen squeals a staccato, crowded note formation.

With the alto saxophonist’s continuous, sonorous vibrations blending with monochromic arco bass lines, the drummer’s cross sticking and cymbal slaps color the proceedings. Eventually moving to the front with a brighter tone – and briefly cloning himself with glottal punctuation – Küchen’s penultimate theme variation hangs in the air. Finally it’s cut off by Zanussi’s rasgueado strums and Strid’s hollow rim shots.

Listen to this disc as a rough-hewn essay in advanced, contemporary Scandinavian improvisation – created on the spot by some of its most profound practitioners. Memorable musical tricks may be on show, but they share space with talent and inspiration.

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Ken Waxman www.jazzword.com Toronto December 2006