Monday, November 11, 2013

Angles 9 – In Our Midst (Clean Feed, 2013) ****

One of last year’s highlights was Angles 8s sprawling By Way of Deception, an album that introduced an expanded line-up and featured liner notes by Free Jazz blog founder Stef Gijssels. After two previous releases on Clean Feed, By Way of Deception showed that there was still room for bandleader Martin Küchen’s vision to grow, with pianist Alexander Zethson greatly expanding the group’s rhythmic foundation, and Eirik Hegdal’s additional saxophone further broadening the band’s sonic palette.

On Clean Feed’s latest venture into the LP resurgence, Angles has expanded yet again, adding trumpeter Magnus Broo back into the fold after his absence on By Way of Deception. (It should be noted the band has grown even more since this recording, appearing at Jazzfestival Saalfelden this summer as a 10-piece with an additional drummer). A single LP, In Our Midst feels like a quick update, an intermediate document that serves as a snapshot of the band as it continues to evolve.

In Our Midst opens with a new eponymous track, a smoldering piece that builds a typically wistful melodic theme over slow-motion afrobeat rhythms. Angles’ music has always been deceptively simple and completely unsubtle at first blush. In reality, it’s meticulously crafted, emotive music that’s continually reborn as the musicians explore the possibilities in songs they have become intimately familiar with (Küchen doesn’t write anything down—the group learns and internalizes the music through Küchen’s demonstrations). Angles has in spades what many improvising groups have trouble conjuring: visceral emotional impact. It’s a music that aims to deliver to the listener even the smallest notion of its creator’s incredible passion. Huge rhythmsand dulcet counterpoint, playfulness and humor juxtaposed with plaintive melody, the fact that all of their albums have been live concert recordings: all of these serve as direct conduits of music-making passion. An Angles tune is designed to elevate musician and listener together to a shared, ecstatic plane. Foremost, it is a music of feeling.

One of the many pleasures of following Angles over the years has also been hearing the wayKüchen’s pieces have developed along with the band. The overlap in tunes on previous albums continues here: In Our Midst’s other offerings include “Every Woman is a Tree” from their debut, and the title track from last year’s By Way of Deception. “Every Woman is a Tree” has a fairly standard jazz tune structure, and has served as one of few vehicles for extended soloing by Küchen. Here, it takes on an all-new intensity, beginning with an angular piano vamp before ramping up to the head. The band now has many more possibilities behind the long solo in the mid-section: first, a monstrous bearing-down on the hypnotic beat; then multi-octave rephrasings of the main theme; finally, out-and-out improvised mayhem. The song sounds more urgent and cathartic than ever before. Similarly, “By Way of Deception” feels far more primal, the band muscling through the first portion of the song like brutes on a rampage.

On one level, you could say In Our Midst is more of the same from Angles. To my mind, that will continue to be a reason to get excited. But it’s a sentiment that oversimplifies: these songs may be familiar, but like the very best musical acts, Angles makes them feel new each time they’re heard.

Check out video from the same performance featured on In Our Midst:

You can find a copy at

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