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SURD - Live at Glenn Miller Café

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Artist: SURD

Album: Live at Glenn Miller Café

Label: Ayler

Review date: Apr. 6, 2005

We should be thankful for Ayler Records. In 2000 founder Jan Ström transformed his private passion for free jazz and live recordings into a public gift, letting the rest of us be privy to moments that would be otherwise lost. Ayler Record reminds us that jazz is about taking chances, full of transcendent successes and human excesses. Live at the Glen Miller Café captures both in its preservation of a 2004 set by the Swedish quartet SURD.

SURD comprises David Stackenäs's biting guitar, the teeming rhythm work of bassist Filip Auguston and drummer Thomas Strønen, and Fredrik Nordström's gritty saxophone. Nordström also works in the powerhouse quartet Dog Out, a group that brings much needed toughness to jazz. Some of that group's punch and backbone carries over into SURD, most obviously on Nordström’s "3 6 4 U." Stackenäs dominates, but Nordström lets loose with a tone that owes as much to early R&B as it does to free jazz. Auguston and Strønen lay down a groove full of sharp turns, reaching back to the irresistible momentum of Chico Hamilton’s riffing compositions. "Magnum Bonum", an Auguston piece, ignites a similar spark, with Stackenäs, on slide, and Nordström rambling rough over the bassist's brawny, Dave Holland-inspired vamp. Stackenäs evokes the blues without cliché, as he lets chords and single notes simmer until they bend and blur into a haze, an approach he also succeeds with on his own "Hello Paul."

It's the group improvisation included here that shows just how easily a jazz ensemble can fail. "Bye, Bye Teddy" begins promisingly, with Strønen speaking in tight, repetitive phrases, his snare rolls air-tight, his cymbals chattering and his bass-drum accents models of economy. The group then engages in a jittery, stop-and-go dialogue familiar to listeners of British and Dutch Improv, but the Swedes use more repetition. The tense intrigue soon dissolves though, and the quartet tailspins into an all-too-familiar freak-out crescendo that leaves them with nowhere to go.

"38" shows a way out of such improvisational dead-ends. The Steve Lacy piece bears the mark of the saxophonist's lifelong love affair with Thelonious Monk, its angular, subtly dissonant theme inseparable from the rhythm. In a similar Monk vein, the quartet breaks apart the theme, turning and twisting it without breaking it, puzzling together a string of spiky, snarling outbursts. It is a snarky game of cat-and-mouse that's great fun to listen to. These are the moments we long to hear, and that Ström, his net cast wide and unafraid of mistakes, catches.

By Matthew Wuethrich

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