By Ken Waxman
Part of the cluster of younger improvisers defining themselves within the ongoing Jazz/Free Music discourse, Danish alto saxophonist Julie Kjær is in the position of a story teller with a couple of novels in print, but who still hasn’t established a singular style. Known at this point for her on-going membership in Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love’s barnstorming Large Unit, Kjær, has also recorded with Django Bates and played with many other sound stylists. The audacious Dobbeltgænger or doppelganger in English is a further step towards individualism, since by playing only her own composition and limiting her accompaniment, it’s like a glimpse into an author’s notebook.
In contrast to a writer’s tale, which after all is from a single person, the six tracks here are more like the miniaturized run through of a play, with a few actors reading several parts. Luckily Kjær’s co-stars here are some of the most accomplished on the London improv scene: bassist John Edwards and drummer Steve Noble. Together and alone the two have traded licks with a gazetteer of accomplished saxophonists including Evan Parker, Peter Brötzmann, Frode Gjerstad and Tony Bevan.
Exploding out of the gate with spiky horn parts, weighty double bass buzzes and snazzy cymbal coloring on “Out of Sight” the three rarely slacken the pace during this recording of a live gig. Alternating between sucking in or a spitting out split tones and irregular vibrations, Kjær almost invariably sets up the tune’s parameters, then clears out of the way as it’s further defined through a series of rhythmic tricks, ranging from Noble’s place-making thumps with bull’s eye mallet action to Edwards sourcing shivery impulses from his string as if he was bowing with an icicle.
Throughout much of the swordplay-like movement involves the saxophonist and the double bassist. On “Alto Madness”, for instance, a walking bass line solidifies the smears, snorts and tongue slaps that constitute Kjær’s reed insanity and via the title, homage to the Jackie McLean/John Jenkins 1957 LP of the same title. Mote notably, the marquee-like demonstration of the three solidifying into what could almost be seen as a many-armed Hindu statute performing inter-related tasks occurs on “Pleasantly Troubled”. Near-opaque string thumps aid the saxophonist in moving her narrative from sour-sounding dry smears to a pumped up narrative groove that advances with the power of an armored tank division. Behind her, Noble’s cymbal clanks are reminiscent battalion bugle calls.
Because of this cooperation on the interpretation of her compositions, Kjær can prove that she’s no dobbeltgænger of anyone else. Her next task though is to define an instantly identifiable saxophone persona, something that’s evidentially soon to arrive.