No band has ever attempted to bridge the sounds of free improvisation, funk, and electronics before Ken Vandermark
formed the quartet Made To Break. The groups fourth release Before The Code
pushes the musical envelope a bit more into the stratosphere, maybe even into the musical mesosphere.
The saxophonist and composer whose credits include the seminal bands Vandermark 5, Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet, Resonance Ensemble, and Audio One, to name just four of his multiplicity of current and former groups, has, of late, set about unfettering his approach to composition. With Made To Break, he refrains from linear composing with improvised parts to a modular system with players allowed to shuffle and reorder the composed sections within a given tune.
This disc follows Cherchez La Femme
(Trost, 2014) with electric bassist Jasper Stadhouders (Cactus truck) replacing Den Hoff. The music, maybe we should say the musicians, adopt a gratifying restlessness here. It's as if each modular section, like a shuffled deck of cards, keeps turning up winners.
The opening track, "Dial the number (for Agnes Varda)" tiptoes in with a tenor saxophone and bass melody that soon accelerates under drummer Tim Daisy
's pulse. It's no mistake that the drummer is listed first in the printed lineup of each of the band's releases. His heartbeat is quite often the signature here, whether he is exercising his inner Clyde Stubblefield
funky drummer or playing Paul Lovens
free. A few times he drops some breakbeats that, in their day, the Beastie Boys would have nicked. The track progresses through (dare we call them movements?) differing modules that shift the time, tempo, and focus. With the electronics of Christof Kurzmann
the sounds can be looped or new sounds introduced. He plies bits of fuzz, some anarchist noisiness, and, at times, ambience to the mix.
The possibilities of this band are seemingly endless. Vandermark chose the electric/acoustic mix to balance the listen-close aspects against the move-your-ass parts. If it's the electric pulse of Stadhouders' bass and funky drums that gets you in the door, it is the potential for new sounds and exploration from Kurzmann's electronics, Vandermark's tenor saxophone and clarinet, and the rattle-tick-buzz of Daisy's percussive explorations that will keep you wanting even more.