Album reviews

Malstrom – ‘Klaus-Dieter’

Malstrom – Klaus-Dieter
(Berthold Records. Album review by Rob Mallows)

I’ve listened to a lot of music. I’ve owned a lot of albums.

I’ve yet to see a front cover illustration as, well, I was going to say awful but let’s equivocate and simply say idiosyncratic, as that for Klaus-Dieter. If the creature on the front cover – looking like an escapee from the island in Where the Wild Things Are – is indeed the afore-mentioned Klaus-Dieter, then he’s angry about something.

Having seen the cover, I wondered whether I’d be angry about the music on the album itself. But I wasn’t. 

This album takes a bit of chewing and probably shouldn’t be listened to while operating heavy machinery, but Klaus-Dieter is excitingly off-beat and definitely a departure from the norm, sitting – deliberately uncomfortably – in the space between jazz and experimental rock.

Malstrom is Axel Zajac on guitar, sporting the best beard in jazz and looking like Yoffy from FingerBobs after a heavy session; Florian Walter on saxophone, way more strait-laced; and Jo Beyer on drums. No bass. My brow furrowed: jazz without bass is like the ambassador’s parties without the Ferrero Rocher. There’s something crucial missing. But, the band makes up for the missing low-end with gusto.

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Flerminger is a pulsing, brooding, spiky start that gets going as the bass drum kicks in and Zajac serves up inch-thick chords before Walter comes in honking and screeching. It sets pulses racing right from the off.

This German-based three-piece is perhaps aiming for something of a Rammstein-effect by having all of their track titles in punning German (or maybe they don’t expect to get listened to outside the country) but when translated, they provide clues to the fevered playing on the tracks.

Case in point: Tinder Zu Vino sag ich nie no. Achso und übrigens Ich reise gerne does sound like there was some alcohol involved, with the Zappa-esque ensemble playing and crash-bang-wallop drumming by JoBeyer. There’s something craftily compulsive about the resulting racket.

On Klaus-Dieter ist verwirrt, our eponymous friend is perhaps confused by the lack of any melody – imagine the band being thrown down a long flight of stairs while playing their instruments – and it carries on in this vein across the whole two minutes. Cacophony isn’t a strong enough descriptor.

Having got any confusion out of their system, the proceeding tracks offer a lot of unexpected handbrake turns. Schnee in Summer. Oder Musik ist auch immer Ausdruck meines Verh… (Soundcloud cuts off the end of the title, so I’m going to guess Verhalten, behaviour) is more subdued, conventional, and rather nice, all sustained notes and light-touch drums, before exploding in the final minute.

Fifth cut Die Maskenpflicht-Verweiger-Inzidenz-Befürworter-Lockdown-AHA-Glauben-Zweifel-Strategie by…. is all chopped chords, tremulous blowing on the sax, and a frantic rushing-out-of-the-school-gates feel that gets going after a freaky first minute or so. Easy listening this ain’t. Again, I’ve no idea what the full title is; Soundcloud only permitted part of the title to be displayed. Chaps: long, cryptic song titles may be great for looking cool and out there; but they ain’t helpful to reviewers. A minor quibble.

The album never lets up. It defies easy categorisation. It is a wild, unvaccinated hodge-podge of tracks that is light years away from anything one might describe as relaxing. But, you’ve got to admire the band’s energy and vigour. They give it their all on tracks like Matthiasbrücke and Pumpen mit Klumpen. Evidently, Walter has the lung capacity of a sperm whale, as he blows constantly and hard.

By track nine, Klaus-Dieter geht baden, we at least discover our monstrous friend enjoys a swim, which is nice, and the track does wallow and float around in a rather atmospheric way. Final track Smurfbrett, like its play-on-words title suggests (“Smurfboard”), is playful and acrobatic as guitar and sax ride the crests and troughs together, though I have to say, I don’t remember Papa Smurf being a big one for the waves.

So, to be frank, this is not an easy album to listen to. Definitely not one for the faint-hearted. But, if you’ve got your jazz crampons on and are ready for a hair-raising ascent without ropes, then Malstrom are an ideal climbing partner as, evidently, they live on the musical edge.

And, I’m still no closer to understanding who the hell Klaus-Dieter is. Maybe it doesn’t matter.

LINK: Klaus-Dieter on Berthold Records.

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