Ken Vandermark: Collected Fiction (Improvised Bass & Reed Duos) & Fire Room: Broken Music
Saxophonist Ken Vandermark has made a career of placing himself in diverse company, whether as a leader or as part of a shared effort. These two releases continue the trend, finding him in partnership with collaborators old and new. However, he brings new life to long-fostered relationships, a new depth and concentration to his playing adding to the allure of these more intimate settings.
The two volumes of Collected Fiction find Vandermark in the company of several bassists, including longtime partners such as Kent Kessler and Nate McBride and newer foils like Norway's Ingebrigt Haker Flaten or Holland's Wilbert de Joode. With the latter, we get the expectant "Ellipse 4," De Joode rumbling underneath a raw-and-damp haze of sustained clarinet tones. On the opposite end of the spectrum, this pairing also drops the jumpy and pointillistic "Torus 4," engaging in stealthily controlled but fully realized counterpoint, this time with Vandermark on tenor.
As might be expected, Vandermark is even more assured in the presence of old friends such as Kessler. Their playing on "Contour 1" is spellbinding, Vandermark's clarinet lines high and pointed, with Kessler providing a cushion of melodic complexity beneath. With McBride, the only collaborator besides De Joode on the second volume (Kessler and Flaten share the first), the relationship seems to be just as free, the two creating intricate webs around each other in the harrowing "Spline" with Vandermark on baritone. Every meeting is adventurous, demonstrating remarkable maturity.
Fire Room's debut sees Vandermark alongside longtime associates Paal Nilssen-Love (drums) and Lasse Marhaug (electronics) and the Norwegians spur him on to an awareness of space not as evident on the duo set. This does not necessarily preclude volume and intensity, as the distorted title track makes quite plain. There is a cutup quality to Marhaug's contributions, as with his solo projects and in direct contrast to recent Territory Band material, the two other musicians responding with taste and vigor. However, the more sublimated Territory Band aesthetic is also present. Just listen to the title track's second part, the album's closer, to hear the trio in a much more reflective mode; drums and electronics enter in a brooding fashion that Vandermark's New Thing squawks and trills do nothing to dispel.
Both albums offer music whose aesthetic changes from moment to moment, but it's all performed with conviction and with an underlying sense of discovery, a benchmark of all Vandermark's projects.
Tracks and Personnel
Collected Fiction (Improvised Bass & Reed Duos)
Tracks: Volume 1: Contour I; Torus III; Prop I; Contour II; Ellipse III; Spiral; Curve I; Torus I; Extension; Torque; Curve II Volume 2: Spline; Arc; Ellipse I; Torus II; Ellipse II; Ellipse IV; Torus IV; Contour III; Prop II; Curve III; Torus IV.
Personnel: Ken Vandermark: bass clarinet, clarinet, baritone saxophone, tenor saxophone; Kent Kessler: bass; Ingebrigt Haker Flaten: bass; Nate McBride: bass; Wilbert De Joode: bass.
Tracks: Broken Music; Slag; When Water Burns Air; Hand Lettered; Dashboard Fire; Line of Lead; Broken Music 2.
Personnel: Ken Vandermark: tenor and baritone saxophones; Lasse Marhaug: electronics; Paal Nilssen-Love: drums.