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Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Vandermark / Kurzmann / Kern - blue days before they end (epileptic media, 2022)`

By Eyal Hareuveni

The Viennese club Blue Tomato was one of the best places to experience free music. It was an intimate, underground basement that could populate only a few dozen people but where you can feel the music’s vibrations throughout your body. It was managed by Günter Werner and Gerti Man who made sure that the food was tasty, the beer was cold enough and there was enough wine in the spritzer, and, obviously, that the music was great. Like many other fine establishments, the Blue Tomato did not survive the Covid-19 lockdowns (and the neighbors' complaints), and after 39 years of activity closed down.

But on Nov. 21st, 2021, just before the club was closed forever, on its last night and the last free night before another lockdown, three honorary guests - Chicagoan hero Ken Vandermark, and local heroes Christof Kurzmann and DD Kern announced a last-minute performance. It was the first, and so far the last time that they played together as a trio. Vandermark treated the Blue Tomato as “a home away from home whenever I've been on the road in Europe”, and said that it was the “longest-running venue for improvised music that I know of in the world”. He was already scheduled to play there three more nights with drummer Paal Nilssen-Love and local guests - clarinetist Susanna Gartmayer, Kurzmann, EMS synth wizard Thomas Lehn, and double bass player Nina Polaschegg, but these gigs were canceled because of the lockdown.

Vandermark and Kurzmann have been playing together extensively for more than a decade, In Kurzmann’s El Infierno Musical (inspired by the poems of Argentinian poetess Alejandra Pizarnik), in the Made to Break quartet, in Vandermark’s Resonance Ensemble and as a duo. Their duo interprets Joe McPhee's poetry and relies on Kurzmann's ppooll software’s real-time processing of Vandermark’s improvised music with a unique rhythmic basis that challenges Vandermark's melodic phrasing and approach to extended techniques. Drummer Kern plays with Vandermark in the DEK trio with fellow Austrian pianist Elisabeth Harnik, and this trio has released four albums.

blue days before they end documents this performance, before a packed house. Needless to say, it was a very emotional performance, for Vandermark, Kurzmann and Kern, the appreciative audience and Werner and Man. The recording is a DIY non-professional recording, without a mix or mastering, but capturing the whole two sets, about an hour and a half “in all its perfection, skill & heart”. Vandermark sounds better (and louder) than Kern and Kern sounds much better than Kurzmann and his subtle playing of electronics and vocals, but you can still feel the exhilarating sense of joy and fun radiating from the musicians to the audience, and back. It is clear that Vandermark, Kurzmann and Kern were on fire that night, totally possessed by the energy of the music and its powerful rhythmic flow. As usual, Kurzmann’s choice of the one song he covered was brilliant and symbolic, Low’s “Will the night” (“Will the night last forever? / Stay by my side / 'Cause tonight, together / Would be divine… “, from Low’s Secret Name, 1999), and the trio concluded the second set with a soulful, melancholic ballad. This performance celebrated a rare camaraderie of musicians with an attentive audience and the beloved space, true to the legacy of the Blue Tomato.

blue days before they end is released in a limited edition of 100 blue glitter cassettes, with no download options or to listen to it online. And it is also the last release, for now, of the Viennese epileptic media label. Already a collector's item.