The Squid’s Ear – Left Exit, Mr. K Featuring Michael Duch & Klaus Holm

By Brian Olewnick

Looking at the credit listing for this release, one might expect an avant jazz-oriented date but not so fast. The Norwegian quartet consisting of Karl Hjalmar Nyberg (saxophones), Andreas Skår Winther (drums, strings), Klaus Ellerhusen Holm (saxophone, clarinet) and Michael Francis Duch (double bass) happily, for the most part, manage to avoid many of the clichés commonly heard in contemporary free jazz, situating their music in an intriguing territory somewhere between that, post-AMM music and contemporary “classical” sounds.

The key is that the language employed by the musicians is largely free of the vernacular, phrasing and inflections that all too often cling to musicians from the jazz lineage and which, to this listener’s ears, tend to weigh down efforts these days, referencing a music that is doubtlessly great but has little real connection to their own experiences. Duch has been involved in numerous projects more closely akin to post-Cage music (recording some of Cornelius Cardew’s work, for example) and I’d wonder if he’s not the guiding force here except that six of the ten tracks give Nyberg and Winther composing credit, the other four being spread among the quartet, presumably group improvisations.

It’s interesting that it’s hard to tell the difference; the pieces sound improvisatory, though with a tight focus for each and relatively short in duration. The sounds tend toward the full and rich, the reeds eschewing any jazz content but also avoiding the sparseness of what one often finds in British free improv; the tonality more often than not is low and dark, anchored by Duch’s arco bass and what I take to be a bass sax on the part of Nyberg on fine pieces like “Uncompromising Squares”. There is a good bit of tonality in play, though no melodies as such. In fact, looking for some analogue from jazz, one might do worse than thinking of Roscoe Mitchell’s more somber work. Only a couple of cuts fall off the rails here, “Free Furniture, No Rugs” and “Cigarettes and Pay-Per-View”, showing how easy it is generate more routine fare, something that could show up on an ECM release (even so, they’re good examples of the type and wouldn’t put off most listeners). But otherwise, the quartet does some remarkable, solid and extremely enjoyable work, never engaging in flashy pyrotechnics or easy atmospheres, creating thoughtful, brief ripples of engaging yet knotty contemporary improvised music. Good work.


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