Interview: Martin Küchen on his forthcoming CD, “The Spirit of Pitesti”

Martin Küchen, one of Europe’s foremost jazz saxophonists and composers, will release a new CD in March 2017, with Trespass Trio[1]: “The Spirit of Pitesti” (on Clean Feed Records label[2]).


Martin Küchen

“Born 1966, Sweden
Plays alto, tenor, soprano and baritone saxophone.
Tours internationally within the fields of jazz and improrelated music.
Makes music for theatre, film, music to poetry and sound installations.
Composes for Trespass Trio, Angles 9, All Included and Martin Küchen & Landaeus trio.”[3]


Swedish saxophonist Martin Küchen – baritone, alto and sopranino saxophone
Norwegian-Italian Per Zanussi – double bass
Swedish Raymond Strid – drums and percussion

Interview with Martin Küchen

My way of getting to know about Pitesti was through The Anti-humans by Dumitru Bacu which I found on the web.” Was your search related specifically to The Pitesti Experiment? What is the story behind your search?

Martin Küchen : Many different aspects lead me to this track I think. One was the reading of one of Herta Müller´s books, about a young man sent to the Soviet Union (Ukraine) in 1945/46 to a labor camp, where he spent 5 years. He was of VolksGerman descent. Then the reading about different communist regimes in general and its always deceptive, totalitarian and brutal behaviour they all seem to have in common – no matter where in the world they established themselves.

The last track might be my own country, Sweden, a “soft socialist/capitalist” country, and by realizing how deeply infested we still are with this pavlovian dogma of progress  – leaving our lives spiritually shattered and actually mentally almost deranged in our non-capacity to really understand what has happened to us, as a society, as a people,  during this last six or seven decades – by realizing this, I came to question everything connected to the marxist mindset and also therefore started to read all this books about communism and the history of communism…..

You write on linear notes that “the experiment is not over”. “That global progressive force…that took away… the soul of the world”, “comes again, with new promises”. Are we targets of a new kind of re-education?

Martin Küchen : Yes. Definitely we are.

Is there hope for those re-educated by the new utopias? Can they be un-reeducated?

Martin Küchen : There is always hope. But within that realization lies a huge risk of being trapped by a hope that might lead you totally astray. By finding new utopias, etc.

If sounds could be translated into words, how would you describe “The Spirit of Pitesti”?

Martin Küchen : Fragile, sharp, with low and high, like water very close and far away at the same time.

Who were your greatest non-musical influences (literature, philosophy, etc.) at the beginning of your musical journey?

Martin Küchen: U.G. Krishnamurti. Not anymore today though:-) Also Kirkegaard, Emil Cioran, Samuel Beckett, Paul Celan.

What is your philosophy of sound?

Martin Küchen: To try to stay with the sound, no matter how it sounds.

Do you prefer recording in small rooms or in big spaces? Are the “spatially challenged” recording studios doing justice to the saxophone’s sound?

Martin Küchen: It can be both really. The most preferable might be a small wooden church with not too much acoustic.

Being immersed in the sound like a fish in the water, how do you perceive the sounds (vibrations) of the world around you? How does the world sound for you?

Martin Küchen: Our urban world today´s sound is usually a mess. On top of that we put very close to our ears, more sound via our headphones, always present. But it’s always interesting things to hear where ever you are – but then you can’t wear headphones:-), but basically we are living in a modern world where almost all expressions are being soundtracked – and by that very circumstance music is slowly losing its grip on us – since we are over indulging in music, music loses its meaning….

Do you play the piano when you compose?

Martin Küchen: Sometimes. Usually I use only saxophone.

Do you remember the moment of your first composition, when you gave birth of something new? Were you surprised by this gift?

Martin Küchen: Yes I was. When I was ten or eleven I managed to write something for solo flute in a very simplistic way of course, but later I found out it sounded precisely like a piano concerto of Rachmaninov:-)

Nowadays I don’t write notes at all. I never write down my music.

Is Nicholas Payton’s assertion, despite the jazz festivals held all over the world, that jazz died in 1959 – “Here lies Jazz (1916 – 1959)” – just a premature eulogy, an epitaph for the golden age of Jazz?

Martin Küchen: I don’t know. Things are dying and being born as we speak. I think music doesn’t care too much about these things:-)

You have toured all over the world, from Japan to US, Canada, Mexico, Middle East, all Western Europe, most of Eastern Europe (at least 6 times in Poland). Any plans for Romania?

Martin Küchen: It would be fantastic to play in Romania. So we in Trespass Trio really hope that we soon can do it. Even more so, since we are releasing this “The spirit of Pitesti” CD in the Spring of 2017.

Martin Küchen




The highlight of the album[4] is the title track, which starts with Küchen using all his masterly technique to show all the shades and colorings of a single note, the kind of sound that is the prerogative primarily of the sax, yet the way he keeps the notes vibrating, multiphonic, overblowing slightly, vocalizing the tone, making it weep, cry, howl, and still without using too much power, full of restraint but evoking real pain, then adding power, shouting it out, repeating the same agonizing phrase, yet changing volume and timbre, hair-raising, and it tears your guts out. Can you make a powerful story with just a few notes? Yes. Listen to this track. It is absolutely phenomenal.”[5]

“Buzzing, puffed breaths, humming, textures…these are all musical landscapes in Küchen’s world and you can’t help but pay attention.  He never screams or shouts, even when he is actually playing his sax, but you can’t help and listen closer.  That is his gift.  And he never uses a cliché.  Ever.  It’s just not in his DNA.  I imagine he doesn’t even know what it means.  It appears he is in his own little world.  These compositions on this album are very well not like anything else you will hear this year (or maybe any other year).

There are other great players, such as Arve Henriksen with his trumpet, who mine some of the same territory as Mr. Küchen but with them it almost sounds like an experiment, an affectation or dissatisfaction with their instrument but not here.  Küchen is exploring his own personal space and doesn’t even know we’re listening and that’s fine with me (and I bet with him too).

Please understand, this is a delicate recording but not a fragile artist.  To make music this bold and carefree you can’t possibly give a damn.”[6] 

Trespass Trio – The Indispensable Warlords









[4] Trespass Trio – … Was There To Illuminate The Night Sky




Author: Dan Calinescu

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