With the news and financial security from receiving the MacArthur Genius Grant behind him, all eyes turn to Ken Vandermark in anticipation of his next move. The one-time Hal Russell apprentice is equally at home in free jazz settings (Caffeine), rocked-out noise bands (Flying Luttenbachers), and inside composed groups (Vandermark 5). His last effort Design In Time (Delmark) paired him with a duo of drummers covering original music and some from Sun Ra, Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, and Don Cherry. Its ferocity and beat-happiness was tempered by an inherent accessibility, assembled by a very mature avant guardsman.
His next move was to remain on the inside of some classically-out pop and jazz music. Spaceways Incorporated covers self-described “cosmic standards” from Sun Ra and George Clinton. Clinton in funk and Ra in jazz, both innovators in their respective fields, never received major attention or reached mass audiences. Their music tends to be complicated, lengthy, and not easily swallowed. Vandermark untangles and simplifies lines, covering the music almost straight. Playing these large ensemble giants in trio also helps. The music is like candy, not sweet yummies but fireballs.
The Funkadelic material is beat-heavy thanks to the electric bass of Nate McBride’s thunder drive. Classics from the albums Red Hot Mama, Maggot Brain, Cosmic Slop, and Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On are groove-intelligent funk that, covered by jazzmen, can get angular when needed, yet stay as unrestrained as intended. Hamid Drake, a long time Fred Anderson collaborator, now Vandermark’s sideman, keeps the ship upright, especially on the Sun Ra covers. Take “El Is The Sound Of Joy.” With Vandermark on bass clarinet, Drake (even within his drum solo) keeps the song to Ra’s simple melody. And the familiar “We travel The Spaceways” is almost cut as a jukebox single, Vandermark’s bass clarinet taking things straight-ahead. This ear candy from Vandermark, Drake, and McBride hits the mark on a new genre of accessible outsider music.
Track List:Tapestry From An Asteroid; Alice In My Fantasies/Cosmic Slop; Street Named Hell; Trash a Go-Go; Bassism; Red Hot mama/Super Stupid; El Is The Sound Of Joy; Future; You And Your Folks, Me And My Folks/Hit It And Quit It; We Travel The Spaceways.