Monday, April 26, 2010

Review: Ken Vandermark/Paal Nielssen Love plus John Edwards at the Cafe Oto, Friday, April 23d, 2010...


















Back to the Cafe Oto again... and a good seat up close and personal – although with drummer Paal Nilssen Love nearer to me, some of Ken Vandermark's playing was a little muffled at times. According to his Twitter feed, 'Easyjet damages the baritone, can't play it' so he stuck to tenor and clarinet tonight. First set was as a duo and hurtled straight off into the fray, Vandermark using melodic fragments as his base, firing the permutations around at speed, gunslinging tenor sax, as the drummer cracked along mightily, in the main using hi-hat, snare and floor tom for the engine room. But for all his heavy hitting- even when he repeatedly favoured brushes, he got as much bite as swoosh - Paal Nilssen Love has an impressive grasp of dynamics, knowing when to drop back, using his high-hat, cowbell and cymbals for colouration or adding small cymbals, woodblocks, tambourine laid on the drum skins. Vandermark is a gutsy tenor saxophonist with a mastery of the ranges from deep down honk up to high squeal pushed through fast linearities, yet he will also hover over a phrase, chew it up and extract as much groove juice as possible, riding the riffs. Traces maybe of the the Chicago heritage he became a major part of, blues and then some, Southside to experimental and back. Given Paal Nielssen Love's similar propensity to slip from implied pulses back to almost Blakey-like hihat bebop ker-chings and at one point a lolloping 6/8, they provide plenty of common reference pointers back into the tradition. 'Free jazz' has come a long way in that respect, working now with such an expanded vocabulary, that a dash of 'swing' is quite refreshing. Vandermark is also a composer of note which gives his performance an architectural wholeness, form rising from improvised content but a flexible form perhaps shadowly implicit. This is music that communicates – without dumbing down. Eventually he switched to clarinet and was equally impressive, using circular breathing at times, judging by his facial movements, oddly avoiding the chalameau register in the main in favour of higher declarations. The clarinet seems to be edging back into favour these last few years. This higher register worked well over the swirl of the drums but it wasn't all squall and blatter – throughout the first set they edged into quieter episodes where melodic interrogation went sideways into colour and sonic texture. Vandemark ended their first set with a clarinet feature – maybe this was one of his compositions rather than a totally free improvisation? The melody seemed naggingly familiar, with a dash of Monk influence to my ears... Ending quietly, coming to rest...

Grab a bit of the duo flavour (with Vandermark on baritone - here...

Second set with John Edwards, bass about town, added. Vandemark had not played with him before but Edwards was at full throttle straight away, joining the tenor with his bow to arco along with the opening melodic statements and locking seamlessly in with the drums.  Edwards' ferocious attack is powered by hands that seem to have superhuman strength in order to stand up to the assault of flesh and bone on string and wood. He plays with such ferocity that he broke a string (again – that's the second time I've seen this happen in a couple of months). Less flowing tenor lines here, more concentration on group interaction – again Vandemark would lock on various riffs and exploit their repetitions with small changes. Perhaps a wise move – in this context, with the added busyness of the bass and no direct miking, longer lines would tend to get a little lost in the thickets of sound being generated. The riff taken onwards... When they slipped into the more abstract areas of granularities, breath/embouchural manipulations, hands on drums, cymbals, added small effects, Edwards' large sonic canvas scored high, his rubbings, scrapings and expansions of the conventional sound world of the bass providing mighty additions to enlarging and enriching the immediately expanding terrain. Solos all round, Love providing some roisterous drums alongside his more contemplative forays into sonorities, Edwards using bow, hands to pluck, slap and pummel, in one passage skittering near to more conventional jazz lines with accurate and fast pizzicato walking. Vandemark deployed his clarinet to good effect again, the high register sailing over the clattering middle and bottom with elegant freedom. Near the end he gave a breathy held note on tenor that seemed to be a signal to stop – but the other two continued for another couple of minutes until another long note finally brought the performance to another quiet conclusion.

Great stuff. From his Twitter again: '...burning trio with John Edwards- great.' Succinct and accurate...
So: another extremely enjoyable night down at the Oto – flying the flag for free jazz... I love this place and the continuing variety of superb musicians they have been bringing in, the intimacy where you can see/hear close up the nuances and shifts that make up a successful improvisatory snatched-in-the-moment experience. The lager is crap, though, but a small sacrifice – the art not the booze, or something... ars longa lager brevis...
Next Sunday - off to Freedom in the City - and Carla Bozulich on the monday night...

1 comment:

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