Ken Vandermark plays rather like William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac wrote in the heat of their automatic writing experiments. Each writer would consume industrial quantities of recreational drugsmainly speed and psilocybin, a Jedi-only combination with the kick of mulesit down at a typewriter, and become the conduit for a best-selling masterpiece which would write itself, allowing the author to retire rich, young and relatively healthy. It was an attractive strategy, but unfortunately it never worked out. The writing was drivel.
Vandermark's music, however, is far from drivel. He shares the energy and abandon that Burroughs and Kerouac must have brought to their all-night sessionsand coincidentally, "29 Miles Of Black Snow" on this disc is dedicated to Jackson Pollock, some of whose alcohol-fueled canvasses approximated automatic writingbut there is structure and internal development in his improvising, as well as virtuosic musicianship. The music is wild and passionate and in-the-moment, but it's coming from deep inside him, built on solid foundations.
Bridge 61, Vandermark's latest project, is something of a replacement for the currently hiatus-bound Spaceways Incorporated, a vehicle for Vandermark's strange and twisted groove-centric playing. Bassist Nate McBride is onboard from Spaceways Inc., joined by V5 drummer Tim Daisy and newcomer Jason Stein on bass clarinet.
The grooves, which are imaginative and potent, are drawn in the main from blues and funk. Occasionally, as on the closer, "Shatter," dedicated to the great free and astral jazz guitarist Sonny Sharrock, the source is out-and-out rock. However mutated and deconstructed they get (which is usually severely), they remain intensely visceral. They're also full of dynamic contrast, frequently morphing between tumultuous and tumescent, and cool and lyrical, several times during the course of a tune (the average duration of which is about nine minutes).
Vandermark is at his dervish best, not only on the tenor but also on his more recent acquisition, the baritone. He brings an attack to the instrument which is often lacking, replaced by the impact of lumbering jello (it's a big and stubborn brute of a horn). He also plays some clarinet (the skittish "A=A/b=b" is lovely). Stein is exhilarating, a young master of his fiendishly difficult horn, and a brilliant foil and partner in bacchanalia for Vandermark. Stein is a player to look out for.
A majestic and triumphant album.
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Track Listing: Various Fires (For This Heat); Superleggera; Atlas; Nothing's New; 29 Miles Of Black Snow; A=A/b=b; Dark Blue, Bright Red; Shatter.
Personnel: Ken Vandermark: tenor and baritone saxophones, clarinet; Jason Stein: bass clarinet; Nate McBride: acoustic and electric bass; Tim Daisy: drums.