Ken Vandermark left Boston for Chicago in the fall of 1989 and the rest, you could stay, is history. The saxophonist has recorded extensively since then and become one of the most acclaimed and controversial some doubt whether he deserves the praise- figures in the world of creative improvised music. He is a member of and leads numerous groups including Tripleplay with bassist Nate McBride and drummer Curt Newton which serves as his working band when he leaves the City of Broad Shoulders for Beantown. On April 16 and 17, 1998, the trio entered the recording studio to create Expansion Slang
which Boxholder Records has recently released.
This is truly a trio recording in that none of the players dominate the music and all show flashes of creativity. The disc contains three Vandermark compositions including the opener "Optica Torre." A mid tempo number, it features some impressive soloing by Vandermark but at least as interesting is the groove laid down by McBride and Newton. It is constant flux yet the similarities between their play at the beginning and the end are far greater than any differences. In between, however, McBride and Newton really let loose and provide some context for what could otherwise be uncontrolled fury from Vandermark. "Alumni Forms" is a slightly punchier track where Vandermark moves all over the place but does so rather traditionally. Expansion Slang ends with the over 21 minute long "In Sequence." This tune begins as a soft and slow ballad but becomes a raucous piece by the end. The playing on "In Sequence" isnt bad but it isnt fantastic either.
More satisfying are the two cuts that come from the pen of McBride. "Daka Du" opens with a slightly more than two minute long bass solo from McBride which is appropriate since he wrote the tune. From there, the track is a slow ballad where the three play with equal weight and feed off one another. Newton combination of cymbals and toms is particularly good here and shows just how melodic a drummer can be. "Hook and Ladder" has a clarinet in the hands of Vandermark and once again he sounds like Don Byron. Newton gets a short yet impressive solo in this meandering cut but the real star has to be McBride whose bass creates loud booms that perfectly punctuate the playing of his band mates.
Vandermark says in the linear notes that " Expansion Slang is a document of where we were in 1998." Such a statement leaves listeners hungry to hear more recent work from this trio and hopefully some record label will soon oblige us.