It is quite a challenge for the jazz lover to keep track of Ken Vandermark. Every few months he releases new material, with new bands, with new names, on different labels ... The good news is that whatever he does, he keeps treating us to some great music, ... for those who are not afraid of some powerful blowing.
(((Powerhouse Sound))) Oslo/Chicago : (((Breaks))) (Atavistic, 2007)***
The first album in this row has a rather special concept. The first part is recorded in Oslo, Norway, with Ingebrigt Haker Flaten and Nate McBride on electric bass, Lasse Marhaug on electronics, Paal Nilssen-Love on drums and of course Vandermark on tenor sax. The second part, re-edited with added musicians Jeff Parker on guitar and John Herndon on drums brings the same music.
This music is actually led by the basses and the drums, and is at times rhythmically superb. Vandermark keeps at his usual powerplay, and that's what he's best at, with short powerful balsts, funky and rhythmic. The new element here is that the electronic coloring gives the music a totally different dimension, at times disturbing and interrupting, at times enriching. Vandermark himself describes it as follows : "The three major influences I considered when putting the music together were the rhythmic ideas of James Brown, the dub ideas of Lee Perry and the collage ideas of Public Enemy."
Territory Band - New Horse For The White House (Okkadisk, 2006) **
Territory Band is a different ball game. This 12-strong ensemble blows the roof off your house on this triple CD. The music is complex, varied, risky, with top musicians, only ... it is not really my thing. I have no problem with chaos, yet this album is at moments hard to keep listening to : too much is going on at the same time, there isn't enough recognisable structure (I never thought I would put this ever on paper!), ... maybe I should just listen to it a couple of more times to really learn to apprecitate it, but it will take effort. For the courageous.
Lane/Vandermark/Broo/Love - 4 Corners (Cleanfeed, 2007) ****
This album brings us back to more familiar territory : the quartet à la Ornette Coleman with Vandermark on sax, Magnus Broo on trumpet , Adam Lane on bass and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums. All of them are fantastic musicians, yet Adam Lane is my favorite here (check out the CD's he released in the past years). And the result of these gentlemen's combined effort is excellent. The first piece "Alfama" immediately offers all the variation you might expect from such a band : strong pulsing rhythms with unisono sax and trumpet, coming to a sudden halt for a long unaccompanied bluesy trumpet solo, that is first supported by some subtle drums which forces the energy back into the piece, into higher and more intense spheres, picked up by a hard-bopping sax solo like runners in a 4 x 100 relay race. The second piece "Spin With the EARth" starts with an African theme and melody, reminiscent of Don Cherry, that is deconstructed into shreds of solo and it gets gradually built up again rhythmically. On "Lucia" Vandermark steals the show with his fiery bass clarinet soloing. This CD offers a lot : freejazz, hard bop, blues, afro-jazz, funk, intens harmonic interplay and shouting counterpoint.
Of all the line-ups Vandermark played in for the last years, 4 Corners is one of the best. Adam Lane brings a deep musical and bluesy feeling to the band, and Broo adds the melodic and sometimes joyous sound. From the three CDs reviewed above, my not so very courageous choice would go to this one.