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One Track Mind: Scorch Trio – “Kjøle Høle”

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When talking about notable adventurous jazz of any sort that's being made these days, it's hard not to mention the Scandinavians. You've got your Esborn Svennson Trio (EST), Jaga Jazzist, Bugge Wesseltoft, Nils Petter Molvær, and even old stalwarts like Terje Rypdal and Jan Garbarek who remain vital to the scene.

A few years ago, one of the older guys from Finland and two of the younger ones from Norway got together and formed a whack jazz combo, the Scorch Trio. The elder, electric guitarist Raoul Björkenheim, has been a dark ambient guitarist on the scene since the eighties, experimenting with mixing electronics, native folk music and Albert Ayler/Ornette Coleman jazz, among other experiments. Besides both being born in L.A. in 1956, Björkenheim shares Nels Cline's adventuresome spirit, but shows more of the influence of having moved back to his ancestral homeland.

The Norwegian rhythm section of bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love make up one half of the superb free jazz supergroup School Days that also includes Ken Vandermark and Jeb Bishop. They've been getting a lot of work in other combos on both sides of the Atlantic in recent years.
All three had gotten together in 2002 to record the album Scorch Trio under their collective names. A couple of years later, Luggemt followed, with the players adopting the name of the prior album. And when they get worked up into a frenzied state of mind, they live up to the name and out-and-out rip.

Luggemt is a gritty, powerful recording, helped along by the fact that the players recorded it "live" in the studio with no overdubs and using old-school analog tape. It isn't non-stop skronking a la Peter Brötzmann, and except for the bookend tracks, it's actually full of ambient moments and even a bluesy slide guitar on one track. But the big crowd pleasers come at shredding time, and that time arrives right at the start with the tune that's being spotlighted today.

Björkenheim begins "Kjøle Høle" with three or four skittering notes until Flatan and Nilssen-Love come crashing in about 10 seconds later. The skittering lines continue, while Nilssen-Love is rummaging around his drum kit with reckless abandon like the Nordic Rashied Ali that he is.

However, with a closer listen to the commotion you will find little dissonance; Björkenheim and Flaten are playing honest-to-goodness chord progressions. It doesn't make up a fully formed melody, it's oblivious to timekeeping and the progressions change over the course of the song. But, it's there.

The key factor in this song is Flaten's Fender bass. Several years of working with Nilssen-Love in various whack jazz bands like the aforementioned School Days as well as Element and Atomic has resulted in a strong chemistry. Flaten's low lines blurt out in a pattern that works in concert with Nilssen-Love's raucous banging, but in notes that sync with Björkenheim's repeating chord progressions. Without Flaten, this song would be nothing more than a bunch of guys playing their own thing in the same room without acknowledging that anyone else is in there playing, too.

The other beautiful subtlety in this free-for-all is how that intensity is carefully modulated. To enhance it, Björkenheim's guitar tone is gradually taken over by feedback. Later on at four minutes left at around the eight-and-a-half minute mark, Nilssen-Love starts easing his foot off the gas in discrete measures until the song finally diminishes to almost nothing at the end.

It's an exhausting song and for many, an exhausting listen, but the intensity and controlled chaos makes it an attractive performance for those who like their experimental jazz with a heavy-metal attitude. The band that calls itself "Scorch Trio" doesn't falsely advertise.

"One Track Mind" is a more-or-less weekly drool over a single song selected on a whim and a short thesis on why you should be drooling over it, too.

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  • Mark Saleski

    dangit, now i’ve got to add this to my list too. it’s never ending i tell ya!