AMN Reviews: Soft Kill Option – National Emergency (2020; Freifeld Tontraeger)

Austria’s Soft Kill Option is Markus Ohler on baritone sax and Theremin, Bernd Satzinger on bass, and Mathias Koch on drums. This, their second release, consists of two long tracks each referencing a particular politician known for far-right nationalism. The first I’ll abbreviate as POTUS 45 and the second is entitled St. Rache. And the band is doing more than just providing protest music – any purchases of the tracks for above the listed prices will result in the difference being donated to Black Lives Matter or the DÖW (an Austrian anti-nationalist organization), respectively. Anyway, on to the music.

Despite the titles and the subject matter behind them, the music is not dark. Instead, it is a blend of free improv and structured composition with more than a moderate dose of complexity. But even the more open-ended sections generally limit use of extended techniques, and often return to established themes. Tempo is fluid as well, with a wide range of meters and seamless switching therebetween. The use of Theremin along with more typical jazz/improv trio is interesting. It is a lead instrument rather than being used for spacious atmospherics. As such, its atypical sound drives angular soloing not unlike the sax, but with a unique feel.

Comparisons are challenging, though National Emergency at times resembles the output of the U.S. band Curlew, though less structured and with a European free jazz flavor. Indeed, St. Rache ends with an odd blowout that seems post-processed and sped up, reflecting a sense of urgency.