Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Unsolicited Music Ensemble...

Anybody who knows me well will be aware of my waning tolerance for old school 'bubble & squeak' improvised music. At times my antipathy has unfortuantely resembled a crusade, but these days I'm more relaxed, rarely giving the music much thought unless I absolutely have to.

This review was one such occasion, stretching my policy of seeing the music from the perspective of the intended listener to the limits. The music was execerable, but I've got to say that 'Exploding Customer' and 'The Sound of Mucus' are two of the finest band names I've heard for a long long time.

Before anybody asks, I think that I have a good grasp of what this music is all about, having dabbled as both a player and promoter. I'd even go as far as to say that this insight is probably the reason why I now dislike this music so much. Comments in defence of improv are, however, always welcome here...


Fjarilsamarylis; Capsules; Mandelbrot And Julia; Small Edison Screw; Onion Shallot; Garlic Chive; Macablitz; Bongardia; Chrysogonum.

Martin Kochen (ss, bs); Tony Wren (b); Raymond Strid (d, perc). Recorded 2/02.

Unsolicited Music Ensemble are a newish aggregate, comprising three generations of European free improvisation. Bassist Tony Wren has the longest CV, notable associates including Howard Riley and Phil Wachsmann. Swedish percussionist Raymond Strid has become established via high profile work with Marilyn Crispell and Mats Gustafsson, whilst reedsman Kochen is the youngster in the fold, his work with 'Exploding Customer' and 'The Sound of Mucus' only breaking out of Scandinavia relatively recently.

The pieces on Bulbs were all recorded live during a short Swedish tour in February 2002, and save for a rogue reference to a light bulb, optimistically carry titles that bring images of green shoots to mind. Whether or not improv belongs on the pages of a magazine like Jazz Review is a vexed question that needs to be addressed, especially at a time when manifesto statements are creating interest on these pages. Given the music’s history of antagonism towards (and reaction against) jazz, I’d argue that its most aimless and self-indulgent aspects have caused real harm (by mistaken association) to the reputation of free-jazz, thus setting back proper appreciation of the great music of the 1960s by many years.

The UME illustrate the problem perfectly. Their instrumentation is that of classic free-jazz, yet the sounds are of the fabled ‘farmyard & pondlife’ variety. This is a most rarefied and uncommunicative soundworld. UME do of course achieve moments of cohesion which make the wasteful longeurs seem momentarily worthwhile, but after almost an hour of unvariegated scraping on de-tuned double bass, strangulated reed noise, and small percussive gestures (with occasional outbursts of violence), are a few fleeting glimpses of something better really sufficient reward for your patience?

UME are a tightly controlled and close-listening collective who nimbly shadow one another’s albeit limited moves. The dynamic range of the music is limited, as is any sense development in the music, but the recording quality is clean and betrays no signs of having been recorded in three separate venues. Whilst UME won’t illuminate any new corners for devotees of this increasingly stilted sounding genre, certainty is what ultimately draws us to our favourite musical areas. If you like your improvisation hard boiled and austere, Bulbs will not disappoint.

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review, March 2003)

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