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Those with their ears cocked to the Chicago scene have probably been following these two bands since their respective inceptions in the early Nineties and have no doubt been anticipating this meeting for some time. Vandermark’s been a frequent guest on the AALY Trio’s recordings, appearing of four of their releases over the last several years. Similarly, Swedish reed ravager Gustafsson is a key cog in a number of the Chicagoan’s multifarious projects. Their shared camaraderie manifests as a two-pronged sonic scrub-brush virtually guaranteed to strip even the most tenacious aural rust from the ears. Håker-Flaten rings in as a relatively recent conscript to the AALY ranks, but the nascency of his membership in no way reflects adversely on his ability to keep pace with his peers.
Built on a recording chassis similar to Ornette Coleman’s seminal Free Jazz the disc divides the trios along the convenient demarcation of stereo channels. As with its inspirational source this album is a blast to hear in each of its three guises, whether by full ensemble, or divided into right or left speakers. Rather than douse the listener in a torrent of the teamed-ensemble at full muster the disc starts teasingly with a duet of drums. Drake and Nordeson churn up a percussive tide that hardens both in propulsive force and dynamic breath pulling back in spray of sporadic cymbals for the basses to take gain purchase. Cloudbursts of staccato horns erupt above the choppy harmonic seas, soon dissolving into a clarinet solo by Vandermark that stretches the tonal parameters of his reed. Gustafsson answers with an improvisation soaked in overblown snatches of bleated color, providing a contrast that is at once garrulous and grating. As is perhaps inevitable given the ensuing drum-driven din, the clarity of the bassists’ lines becomes largely lost in melee.
Kessler and Nordeson soon receive their recompense and sharing a conversation analogous to the disc’s drum opener during the initial minutes of the Ayler classic “Angels.” Their bowed braiding of worried harmonics borders the fringes of monotony, but the shift to fingers mid-stride opens up the interplay considerably. Vandermark’s entrance on bass clarinet, flanked by the drummers and soon after Gustaffson’s hoary tenor, invokes the source with emphatic force. Don Cherry’s “Awake Nu” works on an appreciably visceral level and finds the group repeatedly referencing the theme obliquely passing, but concentrating their concerted efforts mainly on improvisatory interplay. Gustaffson scrapes the spit from his reed in strangled sobs and gasps, before easing back into a spate of glissando rasps. Vandermark’s follows with a less combative tack on tenor playing with the pieces of the theme and doling out clipped emotive phrases. The piece finds resolution in final foray through Cherry’s delicately whistleable theme. Here then is a meeting that perhaps should have come sooner (thanks to Okka for helping make it happen!), but it’s safe to say that the cinders sparked by these two trios meeting are likely to light listener ears for many years hence.
Okka Disk on the web: http://www.okkadisk.com
Track Listing: Left To Right (13:15)/ Angels (21:12)/ Awake Nu (17:06).
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.