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Exploding Customer - At Tampere Jazz Happening

Clifford Allen, One Final Note

From the piano-less quartet instrumentation, de rigeur in freebop groups from Ornette onward, one might assume that Exploding Customer would be yet another revamp of an old mode or three. In thinking this, one would be proven wrong. For this second release, recorded live in Tampere, Finland slightly over a year ago, Sweden’s Exploding Customer has brought its rock-and-roll energy, klezmer and Middle Eastern tonal sensibilities, and torrid freebop dances into a tight and unified sensibility. Consisting of alto and tenor doubler Martin Küchen, trumpeter Tomas Hallonsten, drummer Kjell Nordeson (also of Mats Gustafsson’s AALY Trio and Ken Vandermark’s School Days) and Connecticut-born expatriate bassist Benjamin Quigley, the quartet has been working together for about five years and this release follows its debut on Ayler Records, Live at Glenn Miller Café.

It’s pretty easy to forget that such a vicious, dense and full-bore ensemble as AALY shares a drummer, as Nordeson’s dry and direct roll-heavy flywheels and taut timekeeping keep juggernauts like the album-opener “Mr. BP (D)” steamrolling relentlessly forward. The drunken, amped-up klezmer theme might sound hokey in any other hands, but Küchen’s gruff and downright sleazy tenor keens with the funky edge of Hans Dulfer and the mania of Arthur Doyle all at once (check the guttural squall opening “The Crying Whip” for more of his tenor). “Child, Child” continues the onslaught, a more minor-key Eastern melody rammed through a very small hole (about three minutes) and coming through on the other side buzzing with acrid alto heel-digging and dusty, mocking brass wah-wah. “Quoting Frippe: What’s the Name of the Bass Player” is the group’s homage to Swedish tenorman, label honcho (Bird Notes), and scene-maker Bengt “Frippe” Nordstrom, a common nod among contemporary Swedish avant-garde groups.

The proceedings open up slightly here for a loosely-swinging alto-trumpet conversation as Nordeson and Quigley storm ahead with their relentless rhythmic stew. Quigley has his first solo spot of the session, albeit interspersed with bit-chomping commentary from the front line. More of the accustomed Nordeson hot free-time surges fuel “The Prophet’s Ad”, an altogether too-brief piece that nevertheless explores some interesting and almost Calypso-tinged thematic elements in its scant three minutes. It is rather interesting that, whereas live settings seem to stretch out an ensemble’s possibilities in terms of length, Exploding Customer tends to keep proceedings relatively short from tune to tune—most pieces are modestly under five minutes. Of the longer works, the tense nine-minute brew of dissonance and delicacy “A Broken Glass” outdistances the next-longest by two minutes. Brevity often goes hand in hand with power in the strongest recordings of improvised music—Live at Tampere Jazz Happening is a recording fully imbued with that strength.