The Squid’s Ear review by John Eyles

CF303Angles 9 –  Injuries (CF 303)
Angles 9 is the latest edition of the ensemble convened by saxophonist Martin Küchen in 2007 as Angles 6 which, by 2011, had expanded to Angles 8. It is a stunning nonet of some of Scandinavia’s finest improvising players, including Küchen himself on alto and tenor saxes, Eirik Hegdal on baritone and sopranino saxes, double bassist Johan Berthling and drummer Andreas Werliin. Injuries is the second recording by this incarnation of Angles, following In Our Midst (Clean Feed, 2013) the beautiful title track of which is reprised here. That album was only released on vinyl, while Injuries is available either as a gatefold double vinyl album or on CD. It features seven Küchen compositions, all arranged by the entire ensemble, imbuing them with an appealingly loose collective feel. The front line of two saxophones, cornet, trumpet and trombone packs a hefty punch and is ably supported by the rhythm section of bass, drums and piano — plus the crucial inclusion of Mattias Ståhl on vibraphone, which gives the music a lightness reminiscent of Bobby Hutcherson’s role with Eric Dolphy.

Across the album, there is great variety in the music, with extreme changes of mood between tracks, seemingly corresponding to the different sides of the vinyl edition. So, side one is upbeat and energetic: the opener “European Boogie”, underpinned throughout by Ståhl, is driven along by powerful ensemble horn riffs interspersed with some fine free blowing, notably from trumpeter Magnus Broo; “Efi”, also propelled by a riff overlaid with criss-cross soloing, effortlessly sustains the high energy level. The transition to side two’s single extended track, “A Desert on Fire, a Forest / I’ve Been Lied To”, is dramatic as it is more sedately paced and atmospheric, spotlighting the rhythm section rather than the front line, with pianist Alexander Zethson in fine form. Although radically different, taken together these two sides emphasise the ingredients that are key to the success of Injuries — there is not a wasted note or ounce of flab in evidence, with every single member of the ensemble being a first-rate instrumentalist who is full of ideas.

Berthling and Werliin are also two thirds of the renowned Fire! Trio (with saxophonist Mats Gustafsson) and that trio are at the heart of the more recently created — and much praised — Fire! Orchestra, where they were also joined by Küchen on the orchestra’s 2014 release Enter; Broo and trombonist Mats Äleklint are also members — making a total of five Angles 9 members who are in the Fire! Orchestra. While comparing contrasting ensembles can frequently be deceptive, in this case the shared membership makes comparison irresistible. Despite being one third the size of the orchestra, by comparison Angles 9 does not lack firepower. Rather, the nine-piece seems lighter on its feet than the orchestra of twenty-plus members and it fizzes with the energy and exuberance that the Fire! Orchestra can occasionally miss. Altogether, Injuries demonstrates that, while size undoubtedly does matter, bigger is not always better. End result: it is one of 2014’s very best albums. Stunning.

Available on double vinyl and CD

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