Flat Iron

Sten Sandell

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Flat Iron Review

by François Couture

This is the Sten Sandell Trio's second album for the Sofa label. The pianist is once again accompanied by bassist Johan Berthling (a member of the avant folk project Tape and one of the minds behind the label Häpna) and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love (frequent flyer to Chicago to play in Mats Gustafsson and Ken Vandermark's units). Flat Iron is more feverish and relentless than Standing Wave. Sandell displays the kind of energy you'd expect from Cecil Taylor in his prime and adds an extra twist: distorted voice. He uses it briefly in "Flat Iron I," vocalizing into the microphone during a heated passage -- his contribution could almost be mistaken for some electronics thrown into the sound of the double bass. But "Flat Iron III" clarifies any misconception; after a rough, angular solo introduction from Berthling, Sandell starts humming, screaming, and speaking non-words, all of it mutilated by the distortion. The antithesis of Taylor's poetic outbursts, this episode empowers the whole album with a rawer edge. Some listeners will find it unnecessary ("It's been done") or ridiculous ("He's making a fool of himself"), but it adds a different color to the album without jeopardizing the intensity of the remainder of the set. In fact, this outburst seems to vent out some of the anger, at least momentarily, as Sandell's playing mellows down afterwards and steps further away from the free jazz idiom. The piece becomes very quiet before Sandell starts rolling on the bass keys, the trio slowly building up to a "crashing wave" climax that brings the CD to its conclusion.

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