In his liner notes, multi-instrumentalist and composer Ken Vandermark proclaims that his time covering jazz standard repertoire has passed: "The fourth volume of Free Jazz Classics
will likely be the last. Though I have learned a great deal by rearranging some of my favorite composers' work ... it's time to leave that process behind and focus more completely on my own ideas." Perhaps that's a bit modest on his part (Vandermark has long been a prolific writer), but this double disc set is potentially the final word on the classic jazz that informs his own writing.
Of these two discs, one is based on the repertoire of Sonny Rollins and the other focuses on Roland Kirk. Vandermark's stellar group expands on the creative accomplishments of these post-war masters. Rollins' singular phrasing and impeccable sense of timing are universally regarded as his greatest assets. Vandermark, trombonist Jeb Bishop and saxophonist Dave Rempis explore this concept while bassist Kent Kessler and drummer Tim Daisy modulate tempos, further developing the master's rhythmic inventions. Shedding light on Rollins' often overlooked avant-garde credentials, Vandermark selects his most challenging material from the 1960s for reinterpretation.
Roland Kirk was often overlooked in the same way Sun Ra was dismissed as an entertainerjazz musician as freak show. Blind from birth, but capable of playing three wind instruments simultaneously, Kirk was as enigmatic as he was phenomenally talented. Postmodern well before such terminology existed, Kirk's restless spirit took him from blues, hard bop, soul, pop standards, Latin jazz and free jazz to choirs and concertos. Vandermark celebrates his indefatigable spirit on disc two. The front line emulates Kirk's famous unison multi-horn riffing while navigating an array of diverse tunes that document Kirk's uncanny knack for infectious melodies.
Both discs are extremely well recorded in a live setting, presenting vibrant programs of blistering free bop, rousing blues and further experimentation. Vandermark's own writing tends towards heavier arrangement than what's featured on these tunes. He organizes a number of these pieces into suites, elevating the concept beyond mere blowing tunes.
While this may very well be Vandermark's last all-covers album, it is unlikely he will give up the past so readily. His forthcoming Sound In Action trio recording, The Gate, features a number of classic tunes. Tirelessly searching, like his idols, Vandermark continues to make inroads to the future, be they full speed ahead or looking back for inspiration.
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Personnel: Ken Vandermark: tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone, Bb clarinet, bass clarinet; Dave Rempis: alto saxophone, tenor saxophone; Jeb Bishop: trombone; Kent Kessler: bass; Tim Daisy: drums.