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The Electrics - Chain of Accidents

Ken Waxman, Jazz Weekly

Unbelievable but true, this new CD finds Axel Dörner, a German trumpeter, who has dedicated his career to wrenching new sounds and tones from his horn, actually playing free jazz. Not only that, but his work, melded with the contributions of the other players in this cooperative quartet, also produces one of the most satisfying -- and spontaneous -- recent EuroImprov recitals.

A true Northern European super group, The Electrics, grew out of mutual admiration for one another's playing by Dörner and Swede Sture Ericson, a tenor and baritone saxophonist and bass clarinetist. Ericson, a longtime free improviser and member of the popular Swedish group Position Alpha from 1979 to 1995, withdrew from public performance for a few years after that and moved to Denmark. Meeting, and playing with the German brassman, who in recent years has solidified his reputation working with aggregation as different as the King Übü Orchestrü, Phosphor and Ken Vandermark's Territory Band, rekindled his interest in performing.

Dörner had a good relationship with Swedish percussionist Raymond Strid, best known as part of the Gush trio with saxophonist Mats Gustafsson and pianist Sten Sandell, as well as co-anchoring bassist Barry Guy's new tentet, so he was asked to join the two. In turn, Strid had been impressed by young Norwegian bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, who plays in local mainstream bands and has backed up Vandermark and Finnish jazz-metal guitarist Raoul Björkenheim.

Pooling their experience, the four created a band. Captured live in a Copenhagen club on one of its first gigs a couple of years ago, this CD finds the musicians producing a tangy repast of freebop, spiced with free improv asides.

On the last and shortest track for instance, Dörner produces the sort of muted, sweet-toned solo you would respect from Miles Davis, while Ericson gradually modulates his tenor saxophone from simple masculine swoops to screaming multiphonics. Here the most idiosyncratic playing comes from Håker-Flaten. When he's not holding down a foursquare beat, the cello-range echoes he produces appear to come from a bull fiddle strung with taut mattress springs.

More instructive are the different personas each of the musicians assumes on the first two numbers. After beginning with a softer counter melody that balances the saxophonist's ferocious tone, the trumpeter starts growling out higher and higher pitched tones. Creating some sounds that resemble that of a rodent munching through a wall, Dörner soon is fluttering air through his valves and coming up with the sort of trills that sound like he's blowing air bubbles into a milk shake.

That's only part of the picture however. As the four men meander through the 21 minutes of the composition, Dörner, often muted, switches back and forth from his mainstream to his avant garde roles, sometimes while moving one note to the next. At intervals his brassy cadences and Ericson's mahogany sonics suggest an updated Wayne Shorter and Freddie Hubbard. Speaking of wood, the bassist is continuously sawing away on his four-string tree product, while Strid -- to mix metaphors -- is executing a Nordic dance of miscellaneous percussion filled with snaps, snares, flams, rolls, bow cymbal scrapes and Loony-Toon cowbell swats.

Everything comes to a head on "Change of Accidents," which at nearly 26 minutes is the length of some LPs. Here Ericson unveils his mid- range bass clarinet style, containing a good selection of key pops and flutter tonguing. When the reedist warbles in the chalumeau register, Dörner maintains equipoise, hissing nearly still air through his valves. Håker Flaten prolongs the mood with precise smacks with his bow on the bass strings, while the percussionist adds the sounds of a triangle, bells and what appears to be shaken chains. At the moment when the trumpeter generates muted asides, Strid begins rhythmically sounding his toms and snares so that the entire
performance resolves itself into a speedy freebop romp. Again imagine the Jazz Messengers if the trumpeter(s) in that band had used trumpet shakes and raps in the middle of their solos or if the saxophonist(s) exploited key pops and a raspy tone as often as they did blue notes.

Mainstream only in the context of what Strid, Håker Flaten, Dörner and Ericson have sometimes played in the past, and avant-garde only if you're a neo-con, The Electrics seem to have produced a perfect marriage of both tendencies with this CD. Now, all we have to do is wait for an update.