The nice thing about being a fantastic musician, is the chance you get to play a lot, in various line-ups, clubs and regions, possibly leading to lots of gigs and the possibility for new releases. So it also goes with Ken Vandermark who no longer needs to be introduced. What sets him apart from many others, is his incredible dedication to his work, and the loads of work that he puts in every performance and release. Even if improvisation is his key strength, he does not leave much to chance either, while willing to take risks at the same time. Some of his ventures are less successful, but many of them are excellent. He releases so much that he can't even keep track of them on his own website. But it's also the reviewer's nightmare : how to cope with all these new releases, how to listen to it all with the attention the music deserves, how to adequately describe their value, musical differences, and possibly even recommendations?
Two years ago I never got to review the "Alchemia" 12 CD box, because it took so much time to listen to it all. So, again, I haven't listened to all these albums as I should have done, but waiting for a couple of months will not help you either as a listener. I can only announce these CD's existence.
Let's give it a try.
Vandermark 5 - Annular Gift (Not Two, 2009) ****
Possibly Vandermark's best known band, with the leader on tenor sax and Bb clarinet, Dave Rempis on alto and tenor, Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello, Kent Kessler on bass, and Tim Daisy on drums, it is also the band with the most composed material. All pieces have composed themes, are highly rhythmic (and how!), that are also the absolutely delightful backbone for the whole band to demonstrate their improvisational skills. The arrival of Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello and electronics some years ago clearly gives a new flavor to the band, especially when he plays arco and in counterpoint to the horns, as in "Second Marker", or on wild almost electric guitar-like excursions as on "Cement". This is one of the best Vandermark 5 albums, with a relentless drive all through the album, alternating traditional jazz unison arrangements with absolutely avant-garde improvisations and detours, with lots of body, but not the really danceable kind, with lots of soul, but then of the tormented kind. The way these five musicians interact is among the best of that can be heard, without a doubt. They build complexities on complexities, even made more difficult by the breakneck speed of some of the pieces, but it's all dealt with in the most organic and natural of ways. This music will surely not only be the envy of every musician, but also of every composer and arranger.
Buy from Instantjazz.
Resonance Ensemble - 10 CD Box (Not Two, 2009) ****
Resonance", a vinyl LP that was released earlier this year on the Polish Not Two label. And well praise leads to repeat behavior, and the result is this 10-CD box, with performances that were recorded in Krakow, Poland between November 12 and 16, 2007, and in Lvov, Ukraine on November 17, 2007.
The band consists of Vandermark on tenor, baritone sax, and clarinet, Magnus Broo on trumpet, Tim Daisy on drums, Per-Âke Holmlander on tuba, Dave Rempis on tenor and alto saxes, Steve Swell on trombone, Mark Tokar on bass, Mikołaj Trzaska on alto sax and bass clarinet, Yuriy Yaremchuk on tenor, soprano and bass clarinet, and Michael Zerang on drums. The line-up changes over the week of playing, with surprisingly enough Vandermark himself often not even part of the band, leaving the sax part to Rempis, Trzaska or Yaremchuk.
The music itself is a pure delight of jazz, with an excellent balance of strong compositions with lots of references to the entire jazz history, with on the other hand far-reaching and wild excursions into more uncharted territories, but the whole thing is a pleasure to hear, and the musicianship demonstrated is among the best you can hear, whether crazy, refined, bombastic or subtle, emotional or just plain chaotic. The great thing is that this band, even after the pure chaotic technical acrobatics in the stratosphere, always falls back right on its feet, as if on cue.
The first seven CDs are all "small group" improvisations, with disk 6 offering close to thirty minutes of drum duets between Zerang and Daisy.On some parts you have the horns without bass or drums. All various aspects of the same approach: fun and great.
Disk 8 has almost the entire band (minus Zerang).
CD 9 and CD 10 are played by the entire band, with the latter an exact copy of the earlier released "Resonance" LP.
Buy from Instantjazz.
Ken Vandermark & Paal Nilssen-Love - Chicago Volume (Smalltown Superjazzz, 2009) ****
famous café in Brussels.
Another CD of the duo is in the making on the same label : "Milwaukee Volume".
Ken Vandermark - Fox Fire (Maya, 2009) ****
Frame Quartet - 35mm (Okka Disk, 2009) ****
The Frame Quartet is a new band in Vandermark's catalogue, a kind of alternate V5, with Tim Daisy on drums, Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello, Nate McBride on bass, and of course Vandermark on sax and clarinet. The music is less structured or composed than The Vandermark 5, with an infusion of ideas that come from other musical genres, including film and underground rock, but influences from the blues or the avant-garde are also obvious. As usual, the pieces are dedicated to the composers' musical heroes : Peter Brotzmann, Han Bennink, Fred Van Hove, Ennio Moricone, Jimmy Lyons, Steve Lacy and Merce Cunningham.
Buy from Instantjazz.
So, what can I recommend?
If you have a big wallet, go for the 10 CD box.
If not, choose the Vandermark 5
If you prefer more free form, go for Fox Fire
If you like muscular improvisation, go for the duet
If you prefer a new blend of things, go for the Frame Quartet.
You're the judge.
Watch the Vandermark 5 in Lubljana (Slovenia) earlier this year.