June 26, 2016
Martin Küchen/Johan Berthling/Steve Noble
Night in Europe
NoBusiness NBCD 78
Küchen & Müntzing Scheibenhonig
Rop på hjälp
Inexhaustible Editions ie-002
Quirky and unpredictable in his sonic calibrating, Swedish saxophonist Martin Küchen is like early 20th Century Scandinavian explorer Roald Amundsen, who was able to reach both Poles by following disparate strategies. Küchen, who since the mid-1990s has been involved in large and small Free Music ensembles, sometimes getting close to Jazz, other times concentrating on noise, exposes both sides of his split musical personality to appropriate ends here.
Night in Europe, a live Stockholm club set, is Free Jazz at its agitated height, with the saxophonist, whose playing partners have ranged from guitarist Keith Rowe to bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, digging into the material, with the tenacity of a woodpecker arriving at a virgin sapling. His partners are no less dynamic. Swedish bassist Johan Berthling often works with volcanic saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, while among the panoply of stylists of every genre who partner with percussionist Steve Noble are potent reed busters such as Alan Wilkinson and Peter Brötzmann.
If the distinct sound geography of the trio disc could be Küchen’s North Pole adventure, then he has to constitute his expedition in an antithetical manner to reach the other Pole alongside Swedish implement experimenter Herman Müntzing. Müntzing, who has played with Danish saxophonist Lotte Anker and Swedish drummer Raymond Strid, to name two, also teaches at the Malmö Academy of Music. His instrument of choice is the 12-string flexichord, which attaches strings and pickups from two electric guitars to a horizontal piece of wood. On Rop på hjälp, which translates as Cry for Help, he also woks with metal, wood and plastic things, mandoline, toy synth, megaphone, failtronics and contact microphones. For his part, kitchen gadgets, strings and sticks, water, an old harmonium case, and toy electronics are along with sopranino saxophone Küchen’s sound makers here. This is far removed in timbres and intensity from the tenor, alto and sopranino saxophones he plays on Night in Europe.
Curiously, for someone whose activities mostly relate to individuality, on tenor saxophone Küchen’s wobbling tone that’s just-off-the-note; frequently resemble Archie Shepp’s attack. Also as if Shepp was his classic movie star idol and Küchen an acolyte picking up on the first’s mannerisms, the trio tracks appear cast in a New Thing mould, with slippery ejaculations and altissimo cries from the reedist. About the only hints that this is 2014 not 1964 are when the saxist expels two tones simultaneously with a bagpipe-like tremolo or narrows his output down to barely there nodes. Luckily with the élan of contemporaries dealing with a colleague clinging to older practices, Noble and Berthling are thoroughly up-to-date. Between jack-knifed strains on the bass strings and pulses scattered and thumped from throughout the drum kit, they modulate the sounds distinctively without resorting to Fire Music nostalgia. . By the end of the first two connected tracks, the trio combines to produce the equivalent of a chunky spread as nutritious as it is tasty.
Switching to alto sax on “Night in Europe 2”, Küchen appears more assured and contemporary – even futuristic – in his improvising. By pressing his horn’s bell against an unyielding surface and pushing out split tones that pick up sound more from the saxophone’s metal cladding then the reed, he attains a unique sound. The result is as innovative as the newest iphone, but infused with genuine emotional as well. The finale ends the performance on a figurative high note. With Berthling spearing notes from high-up near the bass’ scroll and Noble’s measured pulsing moving the program in a linear fashion, the saxophonist breaks down his solo into a slower, Blues-like conception, with ragged glissandi colored with extended overtones.
Küchen’s other side is cast in bolder relief on the duo session. Like two scientists confronted by a collection of leading-edge items, most of which owe more to personal ingenuity than industrial praxis, the controlled experiments revolve around the processes rather than the end result. At points intonations from Müntzing’s flexichord take on keyboard-styled vibrations, organ-like swells or intermittent piano clipping. But like the few identifiable saxophone slurs, they’re part of the overall empirical studies, not outstanding on their own. Instead rather than a cry for help, the aural experimentation defines how sounds don’t have to be pleasant or even specific to create fascinating sound collages. Alarm clock ringing, the clunk of metal against abrasive surfaces, smacks on what could a wooden floor, ping-ping drones and stop-and-start processing are woven into “1”. But whether the distant piano keyboard-like patterning at the conclusion are meant to suggest humans vanquishing the mechanical or as an introduction to more bellicose geegaw spinning isn’t clear. Perhaps because some textures on “2” can be linked to so-called real instruments the interface is clearer. But again the allure is in the process not the resolution. As loony-tune-like wiggles and pops share space with sandpaper-like rubs, wooden ratcheting and, guess-your-weight gong resonation plus what could be swizzle sticks rapping glass rims, the final dissolve from what could be inner piano string plucks suggests infinite continuum.
Should your listening habits take in the aleatoric so that you can appreciate sonic contours that lack formal completion Rop på hjälp will appeal. If you seek a 21st Century reconfiguration of Energy Music than a Night in Europe is for you. Together the sessions confirm Küchen’s versatility if not his originality.
Track Listing: Night: 1. Night in Europe 1 2. Night in Europe 3. Night in Europe 2
Personnel: Night: Martin Küchen (tenor, alto and sopranino saxophones); Johan Berthling (bass) and Steve Noble (percussion)
Track Listing: Rop: 1. (22:15) 2. (16:20
Personnel: Rop: Martin Küchen (sopranino saxophone, kitchen gadgets, strings and sticks, water, old harmonium case and toy electronics) and Herman Müntzing (flexichord, metal, wood and plastic things, mandoline, toy synth, megaphone, failtronics and contact microphones)