Adam Lane & Ken Vandermark: 4 Corners and New Magical Kingdom

Clifford Allen By

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Scandinavian cooperative trio The Thing is one of the more recent exponents of a hybridization of the visceral energies of free music and R&B-tinged punk rock. Such a meeting of genres may not be as strange as one might think. The group's reedman, Swede Mats Gustafsson, played in hardcore and punk outfits in his teens, and has remained invested in that music as much as he became entwined in Swedish free improvisation. His co-conspirators, bassist Ingebrigt Håker-Flaten and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love (both Norwegian) have similarly occupied varying aesthetic chairs.

Gustafsson's work, including collaborations with underground rock artists like Cato Salsa Experience, Zu and Thurston Moore, has informed a number of his peers. Though the Vandermark Five has been more jazz-oriented in recent years, Chicago reedman Ken Vandermark is re-examining his punk roots in bands like Bridge 61. And, while Bay Area bassist Adam Lane (now based in New York) has always had a weighty beat to his playing, he's brought together the pulse of rock music with a far-flung writing ability in his latest projects.

4 Corners
Clean Feed

Recorded in Coimbra, Portugal in June 2006, 4 Corners brings together Lane, Vandermark and Thing drummer Paal Nilssen-Love with Swedish trumpeter Magnus Broo for seven originals. The first curious aspect of this date is that, like Håker Flaten and Bridge 61's Nate McBride before him, Lane has chosen to plug in his upright to a fuzz-box in his amp cabinet. Of course, this is nothing completely new, but here such augmentation is used to tonally align the music with the grungier effects of rock. Granted, the opening "Alfama (for Georges Braque) quickly segues from a punchy waltz to a deft and mercurial duet between Broo and Nilssen-Love. Vandermark's bass clarinet is a raunchy Dolphy over the returning fuzz and feedback-laced vamp, and Nilssen-Love is once again proven to excel at forwarding both delicate open improvisation and throaty ensemble mass.

It's a testament to Vandermark's writing that free-bop and rock can coexist, but in this particular instance, the interaction between the two sides retains an aesthetic wall—Lane's (v)amp is often used more as a reminder of intent than aesthetic device. Lane's "Spin With The EARth, previously heard with reedman Vinny Golia and drummer Vijay Anderson is, in the hands of Vandermark and Broo, a lost Carter-Bradford Quartet number for clarinet and trumpet. The reedman gets ample unaccompanied space for a recital of multiphonic spirals, slapped tongues and pointillistic jabs, soon a dialogue of wood before Nilssen-Love stirs the percussive pot.

Rock is, to a degree, about mass, velocity and time, and coupling low reeds and insistent basslines with darting trumpet and Nilssen-Love's oft-suspended notions of time is an interesting take on "fusion. Perhaps this is closer to its meaning than merely plugging in for a bass solo. However, I wished for a more circular room in this quartet's music.

Adam Lane's Full-Throttle Orchestra
New Magical Kingdom
Clean Feed

Lane is no stranger to orchestral contexts, and his massive thrum has a drive that can push even the most freewheeling of large groups—witness his work with drummer Mat Marucci, for example (Ensemble Sounds, Cadence, 2005). In small units, that mass and motion can make a trio or quartet double in size as it hurtles through space. Orchestration is not only about size, but also color—"Lucia on 4 Corners is a wonderful example of Lane the painter. New Magical Kingdom, the first recording of Lane's Full-Throttle Orchestra, unites the Lane-Anderson rhythm team with three saxophonists, trumpet and electric guitar for an exposition of nine of the bassist's pieces.

Though the tag of bassist-composer neatly conjures Charles Mingus, perhaps the emphasis on merging jazz improvisation with rock rhythms and textures more closely aligns Lane with British bassist-composer-bandleader Graham Collier. While Mingus' Blues & Roots isn't far from the group's mind on the opening "In The Center Of The Earth, Looking For Mike, dirty R&B-wah is disassembled by ensemble rhythmic tensions, time-measured distances nudged by John Finkbeiner's guitar. Lane and Anderson are a formidable pair, expanding and contracting even while suitably in-the-pocket.

"Nutria One pits frantic baritone-percussion yawp against deliberately-paced and dissonant trumpet, tenor and guitar for an entirely seasick opening. The mood quickly shifts from tug-of-war to tense slink, muted guitar sludge gumming the music's engine as Aaron Bennett's tenor explodes with heel-digging skronk. Finkbeiner might be the group's Phillip Lee, providing dark and broken energy as a rough current between chunky-but-plastic rhythms and expressionist horn soloists.

There are two carryovers from Lane's CIMP dates with Golia and Anderson: the choppy free-bop of "Avenue X and the ultra-knotty "Genius Of El Segundo. Trumpeter Darren Johnston takes the controls in a series of Monkian jabs and smeared, chattery hard bop licks on the former, his main solo spot. The latter's thudding beat is cabled upward by bright guitar and trumpet undertones, even as baritone, tenor and bass emphasize downward motion.

Lane's New Magical Kingdom is a grand unification of free jazz energy, post-bop sensibility, and crunching rock textures and rhythms. As a composer and bandleader, an even greater knitting together of his pieces, talents and ideas would be interesting. It's clear that Lane and Vandermark, not to mention their Scandinavian compatriots, are invested in bridging genres often thought to be at polar opposites. What's key is not combination, but integration, and it's in the air as much as it's in the blood.

Tracks and Personnel

4 Corners

Tracks: Alfama (for Georges Braque); Spin With The EARth; Short Stop (for Bobby Bradford); Lucia; Ashcan Rantings; Tomorrow Now (for Lester Bowie); ChiChi Rides The Tiger.

Personnel: Adam Lane: bass; Ken Vandermark: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet and clarinet; Magnus Broo: trumpet; Paal Nilssen-Love: drums.

New Magical Kingdom

Tracks: In the Center Of The Earth, Looking For Mike; Nutria One; Without Being; Avenue X; Sienna; Objects; The Genius Of El Segundo; Serenity; The Schnube.

Personnel: Adam Lane: bass; Darren Johnston: trumpet; Aaron Bennett: tenor and soprano saxophone; Jeff Chan: tenor saxophone; Lynn Johnston: baritone saxophone; John Finkbeiner: electric guitar; Vijay Anderson: drums.

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