Ken Vandermark is frightfully prolific. This recent release, 'Last Train to the First Station' by the Reed Trio is just one of the many current albums and groups in which he is a member. The Reed Trio is Vandermark on clarinet, tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone, Mikolaj Trzaska on bass clarinet, alto saxophone, c-melody saxophone and Waclaw Zimpel on clarinet, bass clarinet, and tarogato. Without traditional (or any) rhythm section, the trio has been described as a more subtle counterpart to Vandermark's other woodwind trio Sonore with Peter Brötzmann and Mats Gustafsson. While perhaps a little reined in, the sonic textures and melodic improvizations that the Reed Trio explores isn't sleepy by any definition.
Recorded on two separate dates in 2008 at the New Synagogue in Gdansk, Poland, the resulting sound is pristine and lets the listener in on the intimate sounds of the instruments from key clicks and breathes to full bodied tones. The free form songs evolve from a full group effort, without repeating themes or arrangements, but not without free and expressive melodies and rhythms. The harmonic possibilities of the myriad woodwinds is fully explored throughout. There are quiet moments, but more often than not, the trio's music has a fluid undulating energy.
The opening tune, 'When Tulips Were Gold' showcases the great sympathy between the players as they create harmonies in their reactions. The exuberance of 'In Between Chairs' is as good a place as any to attempt to describe the intertwining lines and contrasting colors. The clarinets deliver a twisting melody full of stops, pops, blops and squirrelous sounds. Then diverging, the bass clarinet adds some long low register tones supporting the percolating higher register reeds. The following 'Sitting on a Warm Stone' features a long expressive saxophone solo, expanding and contracting, slowing and quickening, to its own breathy pulse. Whether following the melodic lines anticipating the quirky turns, or letting a cascade of notes wash over the senses, or being pelted by rhythm during 'Anthology Moves', the trio entertains.
I suspect that The Reed Trio's debut album will be on my iPod for quite a while. It's an album that is rewarding to come back to repeatedly. Every listen is engaging and reveals more serendipitous details.
(c) Paul Acquaro