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Thursday, March 3, 2016

Martin Küchen, Jon Rune Strøm, Tollef Østvang - Melted Snow (NoBusiness, 2015) ****

By Martin Schray

Martin Küchen’s trio with Jon Rune Strøm (b) and Tollef  Østvang (dr) is a condensed version of his All Included quintet (which also contains trombonist Mats Äleklint and trumpeter Thomas Johansson). Only two of the pieces on Melted Snow are new (the title track and “Stein“), five of the seven compositions have already appeared on All Included’s Satan In Plain Clothes. So it is obvious to examine in which way the tracks sound different when played in this context.

On one hand, the band has retained the themes of the compositions as well as Küchen’s muscular playing, which can be raw and energetic as well as emotional and subtle. On the other hand, the most striking difference is the rhythm section: In All Included they often propel the reeds with sharp, funky and brittle rhythms. On Melted Snow they usually avoid a straight pulse creating a feverish, almost spooky energy.

The album is bookended by two versions of “Satan In Plain Clothes“. The opening track, a so-called “breakdown“ variation, gets rid of the All Included rock groove, the squeezed saxophone notes, and the funky bass, and in general the arrangement is looser. Strøm and Østvang reject a steady meter and replace it with free and fast rhythms and bowed bass lines which give the track a very tense and uneasy feeling. Küchen’s saxophone reminds of Brötzmann’s squeals and cries, there is a clear link to the European free jazz tradition of the late 1960s, when many small ensembles often concentrated on collective improvisation and dense patterns. In "Satan In Plain Clothes (beat up)", the last track, the rock groove is back. It is a pared-down version of the All Included track but I must say that I miss the funky reed section here because they are the icing on the cake on the original.

However, the gems of this album are the slow numbers, for example, the dark ballad "I’ve Been Lied To". All Included have already played it like a New Orleans funeral march and the trio takes over the minor key blues structure in which Küchen’s emotional vibrato and overtone vocalizations on the tenor stand out fighting with Østvang’s fast, free, agitated drumming and Strøm’s accentuated bowed bass. This contrast creates a very intense atmosphere, it’s Küchen’s moaning that brings to light an enormous vulnerability. The two previously unreleased tracks take a similar line: “Melted Snow“ is another slow and melodic blues in which Küchen backs down in the middle of the piece and leaves the field to a tender bass/drums duo while “Stein“ features him on the soprano. Although the piece is faster and even displays a short swing feeling at the end, it doesn’t leave the given pattern of forcefulness and gloom.

Melted Snow is another nice piece in the puzzle of Martin Küchen’s exciting works. It is really worth checking it out.

Melted Snow is available on vinyl in an edition of 300 copies only.

You can buy it from the label and