Composition, Improvisation and Angles 3

By David Cotner

In 2007, Swedish alto saxophonist Martin Küchen formed a combo titled Angles 6, unveiling it at the Glenn Miller Café in Stockholm — because there’s nothing like preparing yourself for the avant garde by performing in a place named after someone who vanished after his plane disappeared over the English Channel in 1944. A sextet that toured to intense acclaim throughout Europe, releasing CDs on the highly respected Clean Feed label, Angles 6 aimed to alchemize experimental jazz with forward-thinking elements of “rockish silence” and “other hypermodern diseases.” Reviews emphasized the forceful quality of the playing, likening moments of it to “brutes on a rampage.” By 2011, the sextet had swelled to an octet and, by the time it premiered in both Stockholm and Hasselt, a nonet. Angles 3 — the stripped-down version of Angles 9 — arrives Friday, April 1, bringing old compositions and new improvisations to the otherwise placid Ojai Valley in a suitable setting: the agricultural auspices of Grange Hall, long treasured as a place that helps good things grow.

Küchen revealed, “Angles 3 was the original lineup of what was later to become Angles 6 and Angles 9. Angles 3 in 2004 just made one gig, so we want to play with the original lineup and make original Angles compositions steam.” Angles 3 — which, besides Küchen on saxophones, also boasts Ingebrigt Håker Flaten on bass and Kjell Nordeson on drums – premieres its latest adventures in blurring the lines between improvisation and composition on this, its debut U.S. tour. Flaten, who’s moved from Norway to Texas, and Nordeson, who shuttles up and down the West Coast in pursuit of his doctorate in music, offer at least a climatic counterpoint to Küchen, whose musical approach is morose and complex — a stark Scandinavian winter in contrast to the sunny weather that’s doubtless informed the playing of his compatriots in Angles 3. Sometimes artistic expression isn’t so much about entertainment as it is about temperature.

“We always try to deliver on a very high professional level, and this is our job. We have high expectations of our own performances,” Flaten said by telephone recently. “If nothing else, we have high expectations of ourselves.” How demanding is he of his playing lately? “I’m probably the hardest judge of myself — which I think is natural. You have a standard; you have something you aim for, which I think is a very healthy thing.”

What impact do the opinions of others have on the playing? “You can’t ever ask what other people think – it’s a combination of being accepting of where you are, at the same time always aiming for something better. Something more. Whatever it is, it’s a very interesting thing, especially with the music we’re dealing with; and you always meet new people who get inspired and surprised. There’s always something to aim for. Even if you’re 70 years old and you’ve done it your whole life, there’s always something. Which is pretty beautiful!”

Are expectations and free improvisation mutually exclusive? If you’re improvising and just going with it, how many expectations are you liable to have? “That’s an interesting question,” Flaten said contemplatively before responding. “The music we’ll play (on this tour) is based on composed material. We all have songs with starting points as frames for the concerts, so it’s not entirely free improvised. I think the term “free improvisation” can be misunderstood. It comes from as much tradition as bebop.” It’s a distinction that can be rather confusing but, as Flaten explained, “The free improvisation you hear today is as based in tradition as anything else. It’s been done over so many years that it’s an old art form. The expectations within improvisation are the same as if you played standards. You have tons of expectations or references, too. There are a lot of rules within that music, too.”

Angles 3 appears with Ojai’s Rob Magill and Ventura’s Uranium Orchard on Friday, April 1, at 6:30 p.m. at the Ojai Valley Grange Hall, 381 Cruzero St. For more information call 646-8414 or visit