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Monday, June 8, 2020

Entr'acte - Soigne Ta Droite (Audiographic, 2019) *****

By Paul Acquaro

It begins with a crash, I suppose it's all 10 musicians striking at once. A lingering note from a flute blends into a bright melodic phrase carried by the piano and sax. A thrum from the bass and static laden electronic buzz provides a slightly textured musical canvas. The track, 'Perpetual Desk (for Ikue Mori)', is the shortest of the three on Soigne Ta Droite, clocking in at an intense 16 minutes.

From the moment of that first A-Hard-Day’s-Night-chord, even during the quietest passages, there is an insistent intensity that is both thrilling and a bit nerve wracking. Good nerve wracking that is, one that is defined by a unexpected turns and creative musicianship. Soigne Ta Droite is woodwind player/composer Ken Vandermark's first large ensemble recording in several years, the last being (I believe) 2015's  Resonance Ensemble's Double Arc. It captures forceful, rooted melodies as well as passionate improvisation in an utterly compelling way.

As the first track progresses, Vandermark's sax rides atop the doubled-up bass work of Jasper Stadhouders and Joe Williamson and the double drumming of Steve Heather and Didi Kern. Eventually the group comes together with an infectiously rhythmic melody. Trumpeter Nate Wooley and alto saxophonist Mette Rasmussen then follow with absorbing intertwining solos. The track ends with a sputter of electronics and a final crashing chord. The group then segues seamlessly to the heart of the recording, the nearly 25 minute 'Foundry (for Richard Serra)'. The thick bass lines and solid, soaring melody from the sax leaves one feeling like they may have actually wandered into a Sera sculpture. Sinuous sounds wend through solidly forged corridors, creating a feeling of being anchored to a undulating wave, but it takes a while to get there. The first half of the track is searching, experimenting, and discovering new ways to operate as a large ensemble. 

There are of course other excellent large groups working from a free jazz perspective, but as evidenced on the closing moments of the aforementioned track, delicate quasi-classical moments run into pure free playing, Vandermark seems to have mastered approaching a free jazz ensemble from the perspective of an orchestra.

What does that actually mean? Hell if I know, but check out the opening of the closing track 'Telegram (for Francis Picabia)', the electric bass provides a rhythmic counterpoint to the composed horn parts and buzzing electrons from Dieb 13. This is complex composed music delivered with the passion of free playing, never losing control, but delivering a satisfying punch. The recording was made for the lucky audience of the Artacts Festival for Jazz and Improvised Music in Austria in, 2018.


Nate Wooley (trumpet)
Mette Rasmussen (alto)
Ken Vandermark (reeds)

Jasper Stadhouders (electric bass & guitar)
Terrie Hessels (guitar)
Joe Williamson (acoustic and electric bass)

Elisabeth Harnik (piano)
Steve Heather (drums)
Didi Kern (drums)

Dieb13 (Dieter Kovacic)