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A Fireside Chat With Ken Vandermark

By Published: April 17, 2003

AAJ: And the Peter Br'tzmann Chicago Tentet?

KV: That's continuing. That is an ongoing thing. We actually have some work coming up in July of this year in Europe. We did a bunch of work last year, including that North American tour and recorded a bunch of new material. That, thankfully, is an ongoing concern. Peter is really committed to try and keep the band working as long as he can despite the fact that logistically and economically, it is a really difficult group to hold together just with everyone's schedules and the cost of ten people getting together from all over the world every time we assemble. Working in that band, the main thing has been the impact of being able to play with Peter Br'tzmann on a semi-regular basis and being around him and kind of observing the way he leads a band. He is an unbelievably democratic bandleader and incredibly respectful of the people he works with. The band's aesthetics are really defined in many ways by Peter, but he is very open to the input of the other musicians. So he has got a very generous way of getting musicians to work under his umbrella and allowing them to be who they are within ideas that he finds interesting as a bandleader. That's been an amazing experience and just the level of his creative skills and creative ability. He is playing better now than he ever has and being around that kind of energy is incredibly inspiring.

AAJ: Your name is also associated with a handful of projects, Spaceways Incorporated.

KV: That group is still going. We did a European tour in November and we've got another European tour in May and June. I am hoping to do some more recording with that group this year if it is possible to organize it. It is very difficult to hook up schedules with Hamid Drake, which is always a challenge. That group has a lot of potential in it. It is really great to work with a trio and it is really great to work with a group that has the stylistic range. Hamid is an incredible jazz drummer and his skills in the reggae field and in the funk field is unparalleled right now in the music that is going on in all kind of spheres. And Nat McBride is a rare bassist that is equally adept at upright and also electric bass and likes playing both. Getting to work with those guys and now, also playing our own material, the first record was devoted to Sun Ra's music and the music of Funkadelic and the second record was kind of using those parameters to kind of write our own music and mixing all that stuff up in performance has been really, really exciting and I am hoping that we are going to be able to do more work down the line and actually do some more material that we can record. We have this tour coming up and hopefully, we will get a chance to actually tour in the United States, which hasn't happened yet.

AAJ: School Days?

KV: School Days is still ongoing. We have some work coming up again, probably in Norway in the summertime. We are collaborating with another group called Atomic, which is a Scandinavian ensemble. That group to me is kind of connected with the aesthetics of the free jazz period in the United States coming out of the Sixties and early Seventies. I am hoping that we are able to make a personal stamp on that. Just the lineup, with the vibes, bass and drums, trombone, and the reeds and the types of materials that are being brought in there compared to The Vandermark 5, for example, the music that I am bringing into School Days is connected to a head, solo, head format, which is more consistent with that period's aesthetics. That is a great band. It is a case of being able to work with a totally different rhythm section that has a totally specific kind of personality. Paal Nilssen-Love and Ingebrigt H'ker Flaten have been playing together for years and years. Getting to work with their collaboration and their history is really fantastic and is one of the examples of why I like working with so many different people.

AAJ: And the Territory Band?

KV: That band will be ongoing as long as I can sustain it. The biggest issue there is money. I have been using a bunch of MacArthur funds to bring the band together. We have gotten together three times. In Chicago, we recorded the third album of material this past September and then we went and played in Berlin and did a short tour with that group. I am hoping that we will be able to do much more performance work with the band. The last time the band got together, Paal Nilssen-Love is playing the drums now with Paul Lytton and that particular lineup, the chemistry of the band is really astounding and when we got together in September, it really, really felt like a band in a way that is very hard to articulate. You can have a group of fantastic musicians who look like they would work great together on paper and maybe they do play together really well, but there is something that happens in the synergy of an ensemble that it becomes a band where a lot of stuff can be unspoken. There is a lot of communication that happens through the suggestion of stuff that maybe on a page and it leapfrogs and transcends very quickly into high level music. The last time we got together, that was really happening. Everybody in the band seems very committed to sticking together and trying to do more work. The biggest issue is a financial one because it is a very, very international band with people scattered all over the place and kind of like Peter Br'tzmann's Tentet, it is a logistical and economic nightmare in some ways, but really worth the effort.

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