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Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Ken Vandermark and Paul Lytton - Distant Cousins (Audiographic, 2023)


The reed doubler Ken Vandermark is always juggling many projects of varying sizes and shapes, but one configuration that is always a joy to hear him in is the duo, especially the sax and drums combination. Famously, he has two long standing duos with Paal Nilssen-Love and Tim Daisy, and also just released an album with Hamid Drake. On Distant Cousins, however, he is joined by another long-time collaborator, the legendary British free jazz drummer Paul Lytton, who brings along his expansive technique and rhythmic drive as compliment to Vandermark's unique sonic vocabulary and dynamic energy. 

Recorded live in concert at Elastic Arts in Chicago in early March 2020, Distant Cousins is one 35-minute track documenting the duo engaged in a purposeful play that run from the exploratory to full throttle free improvisation in thrilling ebbing and flowing waves.

The recording begins with a quick blast of sax and an introductory patter of drums. The exchange quickly escalates as Vandermark begins blowing longer, powerful tones and Lytton fills in the space with rapid fills and propulsive bass drum kicks. As quick as they were to start, they then seemingly telepathically pull it back not two minutes later. One instantly comprehends the impact of their now 24 year-rapport, and the results are as thrilling as one may imagine.

About 11 minutes into the track, Vandermark switches to clarinet and the interaction between the two of them slips beyond a dialog. It's more a layered interaction, cause and effect tacitly prompted, rooted perhaps more in sensing rather than hearing, and in the end, co-creating a single sound. At first, the clarinet work is gentle, probing, as is the complimenting percussion accompanying it. Vandermark speeds up, so does Lytton. Vandermark is now mixing squalls of notes with more melodic passages and Lytton leans into the textural aspects of the drums, percussive friction and clatter matching the woodwind's scalar flights and extended range transgressions. Fast forwarding ahead to about the 20-minute mark, Vandermark has now switched to baritone sax and all musical hell breaks loose - just like you would want it to. Starting with a few low bleats, Vandermark is soon widening known sonic dimensions with powerful and searing blasts. Of course, fierce energy alone wears out its welcome and the duo does not allow this to happen, rather they push and pull all the levers: tempo, texture, timber and tone to bring the set to its pinnacle and to a final effusive conclusion.

An essential recording to add to the already essential series of - in particular - sax and drum duos from Ken Vandermark and his brilliant collaborators.