Exploding Customer - Live at Glenn Miller Café

Ken Waxman, Jazz Weekly

Impressive music come from a group like Exploding Customer. All of the band members are Swedish. Two -- vibist/drummer Kjell Nordeson, who has been a member of the initially Umeå, Sweden-based AALY trio with saxophonist Mats Gustafsson since 1986, and saxophonist Martin Küchen, who has been active at the Swedish free improvised/Free Jazz scene since the mid-1990s -- are veterans. Judging from their photos however, trumpeter Tomas Hallonsten and bassist Benjamin Quigley appear to be tyros. But this doesn't mean that the music, recorded at Stockholm's Glenn Miller Café, isn't powerful and direct.

Perhaps a live club situation could be considered. Certainly Glen Miller's exuberant crowd seems to spur Exploding Customer -- what a name! -- to a high level of excitement. Instructively the quartet also only works out on a mere seven tunes in course of this nearly 63-minute CD, with the shortest a little less than 51/2 minutes and the two longest past the 101/2-minute mark.

All were written by Küchen, who plays soprano, alto and tenor saxophone and is one of those unjustly unheralded journeymen who keeps the improv scene percolating. The leanings of this Stockholm resident are a bit more outside though. Küchen has also worked with a cross section of other Euro improvisers including German drummer Burkhard Beins, Swedish guitarist David Stackenäs, British bassist Tony Wren and fellow Swede, percussionist Raymond Strid.

Paradoxically while Nordeson, because of his American connections -- not to mention his spectacular rock-hard syncopation-- may be the best known Swede on the date, and all the music is the saxophonist's, it's Hallonsten who emerges as the most impressive soloists. Someone who is still exploring the dance, poetry and theatre scenes and dabbling in electronics, he's involved with other bands in Stockholm, including his own quartet.

Despite the tunes here being firmly in the freebop axis, except for a single barnyard cock's crow, Hallonsten avoids the screaming, sometimes tasteless split tones in which Küchen sometimes indulges. His stock in trade ricochets between Cootie Williams-style plunger work and a flowing open-horn tone. At times his note bending reminds you of an outside Kenny Dorham, or of Ted Curson at his most adventurous, during his stint with Charles Mingus.

That band, featuring Eric Dolphy, and Ornette Coleman's quartet with Charlie Haden and Ed Blackwell, seem to provide many of the parameters of the work here. Although Quigley has odd moments when he bows his bass in upper and lower registers, most of his time is taken up building a solid, Haden-like 4/4 foundation on which the front line can build. The drummer's talent is such as well, that he never brings attention to himself with unusual percussion forays -- rolls, rim shots and cross sticking still make sure the beat is solid. And you can tap your feet to the proceedings.

Küchen appears to have a weakness of Kelzmer-style Eastern European rhythms, the better to smear his split tone explorations all over the piece. "Pygmi," with its ragged African-like street rhythm, for instance, allows him to get into pronounced multiphonics, which are answered with plunger growls from Hallonsten. Eventually the two sound out the theme a half step apart, the brassman trilling and purring and the saxist flutter tonguing. This duality becomes even more pronounced on "A Broken Glass," whose melancholy theme is carried by an unvarying rhythm section beat. Trumpet lines shake with a bluesy underpinning, as Küchen goes off on extended triple tonguing and Dolphyesque alto runs, which at times resembles the Woody Woodpecker song.

Distinctive nasal tones characterize the saxophonist's approach to his three horns, which attest to his originality even if they appear somewhat out of place as on his pseudo-Argentinean "Tango du Prison." What was he doing "in a Swedish prison in the beginning of 1995" anyway? Here the reedman's flutter tonguing turns to growls as unites with the trumpeter's high-pitched variations.

Fine, well-played improvisations, Exploding Customer is constantly exciting. It also introduces outside his country, a trumpeter who bears careful watching.