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Ken Vandermark's Sound In Action Trio: Design In Time

Derek Taylor By

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Sound in action. These three words speak volumes about this trio’s trust in the currencies of movement and momentum. One look at the instrumentation and it’s obvious that the rhythmic possibilities for the group go well beyond the parameters prescribed by usual jazz instrumentation. Two drum kits, one reed; but not just any two drummers and definitely not your run-of-the-mill reed player. Ken Vandermark’s musical directions have long been built on restless and prolific experimentation, a constant forward velocity of ideas and endeavors. This project is no different in the degree of creativity and initiative that went into it’s realization. In many ways it mirrors musically the momentum of Vandermark’s own imagination. Where it veers off in brilliantly unpredictable directions is in the uniquely conceived interactions between it’s three participants.

Mulvenna is often Vandermark’s drummer of choice, showing up behind the trap set in a number of his numerous groups. His touch on the skins can command a quiet resolve or a boisterous clamor with equal facility. Barry’s presence is the real surprise. An Arkestra alumnus whose absence from the recording studio has fortunately not been followed by sabbatical from playing, Barry’s percussive precision is legendary. Best of all his role in this trio is as a fully integrated member rather than simply a prestigious guest star and he and Mulvenna (who it turns out, is also his sometime student) spin a web of rhythms that is unearthly in its symmetry. Given the solid rhythmic foundry the two afford him, Vandermark is free to cut loose at will on both tenor and clarinet, but unexpectedly he often opts on the side of restraint. His decision is a shrewd move and rightly places the textural emphasis on the intricate interplay between all three players, particularly the drummers.

The compositions are an eclectic bag brimming with both originals and carefully conceived readings of post-bop classics from the likes of Ra, Ayler, Monk and Coleman. As is often his practice Vandermark dedicates each of the original pieces to one of the myriad musicians he admires- in this case and for obvious reasons they’re all drummers. The trio project itself is in many ways a dedicatory gesture to Barry and his lasting, if lesser known, influence on creative improvised music. This group’s longevity may be uncertain given the sometimes fickle nature of Vandermark’s muse, but based on this debut recording Delmark would be well served by organizing their return engagement to the recording studio so that listeners will have even more to enjoy.


Track Listing: Law Years/ Sounds and Something Else/ One More Once/ Well Suited/ Cut to Fit/ Angels/ Feet Music/ The Thing/ Top Shelf/ Green Chimneys/ Peace.

Recorded: July 6 & 7, 1999, Airwave Studios, Chicago, IL.

Personnel: Ken Vandermark- tenor saxophone, clarinet; Robert Barry- drums; Tim Mulvenna- drums.

Title: Design In Time | Year Released: 1999 | Record Label: Delmark Records

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