Not only afforded the pleasure of seeing Küchen for my first time live in Warsaw late last year, I’d also been introduced to him immediately before this particular night’s show by Marcin of AudioTong and was pleased to discover him extremely affable. Always nice to meet decent musicians, as I generally contend the vast majority are either dull or pretentious and, therefore, best avoided at all costs. Anyway, after grabbing a beer and heading downstairs to one of Krakow’s only venues dedicated to modern jazz, improv and related forms of music, I was surprised to find the place had several rows of empty seats available still. Good for me, of course, but not so good for those people who clearly had better things to do than join me in witnessing one of the best saxophone players I’ve personally caught for a long time. One of the best because, quite simply, his playing transcends all the usual barriers concerning the instrument.
Although having arrived from a freeform jazz background (and itself beginning, apparently, in a punk band many, many years ago), Küchen’s own work centres around a different approach to the saxophone. Each of the compositions played tonight, similar to his set in Warsaw, concentrates on a breathy, occasionally almost silent, type of playing given to more textural forms that are akin to utterances from beyond the space time continuum. If the wind could play jazz through the trees (and, heck, maybe it does!), it might come close to sounding like this. For all the obvious energy and exertion married to Küchen’s style, what comes out is a series of murmurs, melodious guff and near-impenetrable silence intent on perhaps picking at the notion of details lost to the everyday racket we’re generally bombarded by. It may be either a reaction to the latter or it may well serve as a reminder of those seemingly buried fragments of noise we at least think are obscured by those many bigger blocks of sonic debris, or it may indeed simply be open to subjective interpretation. In the end, it doesn’t especially matter when placed next to the music itself.
Playing five rather lengthy compositions in total, each related to the overall context by virtue of the stealthy playing at work, we were treated to music that made me think of hypnotic forms themselves occasionally conjuring all from strained cries of anguish to the internal sounds of a building collapsing caught from afar. Once in a while, more regular sounds associated with the instrument would make their pronouncements but, mostly, what Küchen does is create a setting where restrained yet dynamic enough movements flesh themselves out amongst babbling that’s more like electro-acoustic work than anything immediately related to freeform jazz or whatever. Quietly employing some kind of shaker to the saxophone’s bell on one of the pieces, the emphasis on detail becomes even greater. Outside of this, he also uses what looks like an electric toothbrush on another piece, sometimes taps out little rhythmic flourishes elsewhere on the instrument and is capable of working it up to resemble either Indian chanting or pipes being blown. Ultimately, his tool of choice, the saxophone, is pushed completely and utterly out of its context.
I bought a CD after the show itself dedicated to the material in the set. Sad to say that it’s not quite as good as actually experiencing this music live (although it's still good), but I’ve always maintained that such music is best caught being sweated out on stage anyway. If this man plays anywhere near you, push any reservations you may well have about improv or freeform music, or indeed a sax soloist come to that, and give yourself a treat. Küchen’s music is aimed at all open ears and can grease your mind’s tightest coils. Get to it.