With drummer-less clarinet trio named after a radical album by a drummerless clarinet trio, you have prolific Ken Vandermark’s latest collaboration, this with Norway’s Ingebrigt Haker Flaten on bass, and Havard Wiik on piano. Vandermark frequently shines a light on an elder, and this one points to the pioneering Jimmy Giuffre/Paul Bley/Steve Swallow trio. Additionally, Merce Cunningham, Frank O’Hara, Eric Dolphy, Bill Evans, and Bley in particular get their due on this collection. As with past dedications, the music stands on its own and makes no attempt at imitation.
“Inside Out” introduces the trio playing a time changing tune in unison, then Flaten and Wiik improvise a duet that shows two highly skilled and intuitive players listening closely. Vandermark enters as the action heats up, and works the low midrange of the instrument. Suddenly, three gifted players listen closely. Finding their way back to the theme is definitely worth the trip. “The Spell of Introspection” features an aptly open, minored melody that hesitantly drops off to reveal deeply restrained invention times three.
Vandermark switches to bass clarinet for “Hopscotch (for Merce Cunningham)” and opens the piece unison with Flaten, the stilted melody breaks open after Wiik’s entry and Flaten swings it. Vandermark adds accents to Wiik and Flaten, Wiik making up wicked lines, Flaten keeping it on the tracks. Wiik drops out and Flaten and Vandermark add some blues, then explore elsewhere. Wiik reappears for the outro.
Vandermark keeps the bass clarinet for “Furnace (for Frank O’Hara),” stating the theme with the others, then Flaten takes over for a hand mangling wood spitting solo. Wiik returns with a manic melody, two-handed unison. With a reed soaked in gasoline, Vandermark hits the ground running. While Flaten never retreats from his four handed attack, Vandermark stays with him to the abrupt coda.
Flaten thoughtfully introduces “Into the Air (for Eric Dolphy).” Wiik finds him first and joins him for a somber stroll. Flaten lays out and Wiik plays a sparse interlude. Back on the B flat, Vandermark adds understated commentary, making his few notes count. “Half Past Soon (for Bill Evans)” suggests the urbane tastemeister with its droll head, but then Flaten goes for it again, climbing all over the bass with the occasional chord from Wiik. When the bassist goes straight, Vandermark finds the blue light and basks. Wiik stretches time with his variations, Vandermark comes back quietly.
Bass clarinet and piano open “Momento.” Wiik connects to the dark meditation and Vandermark impersonates a didgeridoo. He scales the upper register through a section of searching before ending unresolved. “Halfway” has Vandermark insinuating an improv high on the bass clarinet, yielding to a quick interjection from Flaten. “Emergency” kicks the pace with another three way unison that opens into Flaten walking with Wiik and Vandermark talking on either side of him. Flaten goes free and all three embody the group name.
For listeners thinking of Vandermark as the big wind from Chicago, Freefall shows him to be adept at sculpting space as well as sound.
Personnel: Ken Vandermark, B flat and bass clarinet; Ingebrigt Haker Flaten, bass; Havard Wiik, piano.