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A Fireside Chat With Ken Vandermark

By Published: April 17, 2003

AAJ: The DKV Trio?

KV: That band is again connected to the availability of Hamid Drake. It is kind of a free wheeling ensemble, so we don't have to get together and rehearse material. We are much more off the cuff and devoted to more open improvisation. Even when we are playing tunes, there isn't a sense of working out material. It is more hitting the stage and playing. The biggest issue is trying to find time to hook up with Hamid. We were supposed to do a tour in Europe in February and March and his scheduling got screwed up, so Kent (Kessler) and I went out with Paul Lytton, which was a great tour and I learned a ton from it, but it was a case of trying to pin Hamid's schedule down. That band is ongoing as long as we can find a way to get the three of us in the same concert hall. We are hoping to do a bunch more this year, but it is just a scheduling issue.

AAJ: And lastly, The Vandermark 5.

KV: The 5 is really the spearhead group of all the stuff that I am doing, the most investigation compositionally, the most consistent performing. All those things are really coming out of that band. It has been the longest standing group. We have been together for seven years now. We have put out a number of albums. We have the new album that just came out. Being able to hold that band together for so long and have it continue to develop from album to album and from year to year has been incredibly exciting for me. We have been playing on a weekly basis in Chicago since November of '96. So it has been more than six years of doing a weekly stand there and the audiences have been fantastic still. We did a CD release concert just this past Tuesday and we had 170, 180 people there on a weeknight and we have been getting audiences of at least a hundred out when we play. This period with that band is one of the most important things that I have been involved with.

AAJ: Recent V5 albums include Acoustic Machine.

KV: That was the first record we did without Jeb Bishop playing electric guitar. It was definitely a major transition for the band, especially for me in terms of the writing because up until that point, I had been able to utilize the orchestral possibilities of the guitar and how it would affect the rhythm section and different stylistic concerns. So Acoustic Machine was a very important record in terms of defining how the band would work without that element in it. It was the last record that Tim Mulvenna did with the band. In a way, I wouldn't call it a transitional record, but it really defines the beginning of a bunch of changes in the band. It is kind of an indicator of where will go over the next stretch of time.

AAJ: And the bonus discs that were released as Free Jazz Classics, Vols. 1 & 2 ?

KV: Oh, yeah, that was put out as an official release because there was a lot of people who weren't able to get a hold of it as a bonus disc with the first 1,500 copies of Burn the Incline and then Acoustic Machine. So we put those out so people could actually get them because there were a lot of people who wanted to and couldn't. All that stuff was initially motivated out of trying to do something special for those records, for people who had been fans of the band. It really was about what you started the conversation about, these other composers whose work is very interesting to me personally and trying to rearrange some of that material for this particular band. I think that it has actually been interesting for the band to work on because when we perform now, we will play like one or two of those pieces in the set and it is kind of a reference point to get us out of, everything else that we do is what I compose and I think there is something healthy about playing some other material, even if I did the arrangements for it, just to kind of reset the thinking of the band. There is a big difference between a piece by Ornette Coleman and something that I've written and so if we were looking at a tune by Ornette Coleman, it causes us to rethink the way that we look at the other material in the book and the way that the audience receives that material and the way that affects their thinking and the connections that they may or may not make. It is really great and gratifying to play a tune by Cecil Taylor. How often does someone get to hear that music, looked at in a live context? That is a big part of why that stuff was released.

AAJ: And the latest release on Atavistic, Airports for Light, the first with newcomer Tim Daisy.

KV: Well, Tim (Daisy) definitely had a huge impact on the band. The main thing for me is his openness. He has an immense amount of energy and commitment to trying new things out and working really closely with me on different rhythmic ideas. I think that this new album is the beginning of a lot of things that are going to be developed further in terms of rhythmic approaches to playing in a more open-ended way, in a more fluid way. That has been really fantastic and I also think that when Tim Mulvenna decided to leave the group, the rest of us had a long discussion on whether we should continue the band. Tim had been with the group since it began and we've been together for a long time. The question was, 'Do we stop now? Or do we get up and say that we have more to do?' And for my standpoint, I feel very strongly, even now, that there is a lot more for the band to do creatively. I don't feel like we are in a box at all or just kind of running through clich's or stock stuff that the band does. I don't hear that at all. Thankfully, the rest of the band was really interested in pursuing it too and the only name we could come up with in Chicago that would allow us to continue to work the way we had with these weekly gigs, lots of rehearsal, lots of touring possibility, was Tim Daisy. He really stepped in and from the get go has played his ass off. He has developed as a drummer immeasurably in the last year. He was strong coming in, but I have never worked with anybody who has grown as a musician this quickly.

It is amazing to be around and very, very inspiring to be around. He has so much positive, creative energy. It has been great for the band. In a way, it gave the group that had been together a long time and done a lot of work together, his new attitude, for him everything is fresh, it reinvigorated the whole group and it has been a great addition to the band. In a sense, he really saved the band from ending. There is low-key stuff on it. I think on every record, there has been an attempt to investigate stuff that is more introspective. Possibly on this record and maybe a little bit on the last album, we've been more successful working in that area and hopefully, the statements have been stronger in the more introspective stuff and the band has always been more of a hard-driving group. I think a variety of approach on this album is part of its strength. For me, there is a real consistency piece to piece. There is also a huge range of approach. There is really not much 'jazz' material on it. There is a lot more abstraction and moving away from convention and styles. For me, the album is the strongest statement the group has made so far as an ensemble.

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