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Saturday, June 8, 2019

Ken Vandermark & Terrie Ex - Scaffolding (Terp, 2019) ****

Ken Vandermark says that his second album with Dutch guitarist Terrie Ex, aka Terrie Hessels, is “perhaps the most successful documentation of my struggle to battle Derek Bailey's axiom: The problem with the saxophone is that every time you pick it up, it's jazz”. And indeed, any musical meeting with Hessels is an enchanting opportunity to encounter a series of known unknowns, as there is no way to know in what which Hessels is going to surprise you. Hessels always plays with urgent, nervous energy and complete irreverence to form or narrative; he refuses to settle on any rhythmic patterns and his sense of time and space are totally intuitive and rely on his super-fast instincts. Plus, he is gifted with wild imagination and sharp, dadaist sense of humor. “Terrie's improvising puts me into a context where most of the musical languages I know fail to communicate, their vocabulary and grammar are completely foreign to needs at hand,” concludes Vandermark, “when playing with him I am constantly pushed to try and invent new techniques and methods of articulation to express myself.”

Vandermark and Hessels have been collaborating for 15 years now. Vandermark has joined on about 100 performances of Hessels’ band, The Ex. Both also play in the Lean Left quartet (with The Ex’ guitarist Andy Moor and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love) and in Vandermark’s new large ensemble Entr'acte. They released their debut duo album, Splinters, culled from performances that took place in 2014 and 2015, on Vandermark’s label Audiographic. Scaffolding was recorded in Hessels’ attic by his daughter, singer-songwriter Lena Hessels, in December 2017, and released on Ex's label, Terp.

As Guy Peters mentions in his liner notes, these good friends somehow manage to find “seemingly incompatible tactics that somehow fit together.” The tactics, as the titles often suggest, are quite chaotic, and opt for muscular head-on collisions and jumpy cat-and-mouse games with a raw, in-your-face sound. There is no end to the energy of Vandermark and Hessels on the opening “Fixed Length Pelican” or to the countless manners that both attempt to outsmart or humor each other, sometimes simultaneously, on “New Paper.” You can feel their close intimacy on the somewhat lyrical “Paid by the Kilometer” or their joy of stretching and mutating any rhythmic pattern on “Attic Group”. Vandermark disciplines Hessels' hammering - literally - on the guitar strings into an abstract, melancholic soundscape. “Second Hand Diary” is the only piece with leisurely, conversational interplay. “Instant Extant” highlights the emotional, poetic depth of this unique duo. Both sing praises to their friendship over a plate of “Herring”, but would not miss a chance to tease each other on the following “Another Good Idea” or to trade humorous comments about dear friend of both, legendary drummer Han Bennink, on the last “This Is Not Han's Pipe”.

Inspiring but dense 34 minutes of total freedom (which does not sound like jazz at all).