When reed player and composer Ken Vandermark
launched his recording career in 1995, he did so with the deceptively titled Standards
(Quinnah Records). Free improvisations with titles like "Rage for Speaking" and "A Sick Man's Dreams" indicated a different view of the agreed-upon definition. And so, it has been and has evolved, over nearly twenty-five years of creating spontaneous music, that Vandermark pushes the envelope, never content to stay at the preceding destination. He continues to challenge himself and his listeners as he does again with Momentum 4: Consequent Duos 2015>2019
, an impressive five-disc box set of duo recordings.
series has featured performances with Paal Nilssen-Love
, Nate Wooley
, Sylvie Courvoisier
, Ingrid Laubrock
, Mat Maneri
and Tom Rainey
, among others. Ikue Mori
and William Parker
appeared in separate quartets on Momentum 1: Stone
(Audiographic Records, 2016) and here both are featured in duo performances with Vandermark on disc two and four respectively. Paul Lytton
(disc one) was part of the short-lived trio Cinc, the quartet, The Nows, and in a previous duo collection, all with Vandermark. Mori was also a member of The Nows. Kris Davis
(disc three) and Vandermark played together on the Eric Revis
Trio Crowded Solitudes
(Clean Feed, 2016). Hamid Drake
has been the "D" in Vandermark's DKV Trio
for two decades and more than a dozen releases and appears on the final disc of Momentum 4
Vandermark's liner notes reference the influence of 1960s improvisers from the UK on his music. Lytton joined the movement that challenged American jazz methods a short time later taking a clean-sweep approach to improvisation and helping the reed player liberate his own style. Their interaction is mesmerizing on the thirteen-minute "ESS 1C"; less of a noisy blowout than one may expect based on The Nows, it nevertheless contains astonishing free play, tempered with almost delicate touches. Two extended pieces are shared with Mori, the first exceeding a half-hour. "Stone 1A" is alien and, eerie. Mori's laptop generates waves and blurbs of sound while Vandermark strays in and out of playing decipherable notes. "Stone 2B," with Davis, is a stunning work with a beautiful bluesy melody and subdued angularity. The pair take a different tack on "Stone 2C," a percussive and gusty improvisation that ends as gently as a lullaby twenty minutes later.
The first two of three long tracks on the Parker disc are superb. The tautness and concentration of the collaboration are what a listener hopes for with two masters of the avant-garde. This half-hour of music is fresh and genuine in a way that is rare to hear. The Drake disc is broader in scope. "ESS 2A" and "ESS 2D" are wide open improvisations where Drake sets up/interacts with Vandermark's pyrotechnics, while "ESS 2B" and "ESS 2C" are minimal, sleight of hand works with nuanced and intricate playing.
You don't come to Ken Vandermark in search of tradition and overtly melodic appeal, though there is the smallest area of the Venn diagram devoted to that history. His oeuvre pays homage without the nod and wink and, Vandermark is on record acknowledging that the Williamsburg Bridge belongs to Sonny Rollins
. Vandermark is a conundrum; an anarchist with a cautious respect for order; he generates theoretical storms, dissipates them, only to make them reappears over the next horizon. With Davis, Drake, Lytton, Mori, and Parker he has produced the best recording of his career with Momentum 4
This review is based on the limited-edition CD box set. The collection is available as a digital download. The Lytton session was recorded Experimental Sound Studio in 2015 and the other duos in 2018 and 2019 at ESS and during Vandermark's residency at The Stone. The improvisations were created in real-time with each duo member except for the composition "Eventual."
CD1 Paul Lytton: ESS 1A; ESS 1B; ESS 1C; ESS 1D; ESS 1E; ESS 1F. CD2 Ikue Mori: Stone 1A; Stone 1B. CD 3 Kris Davis: Stone 2A; Stone 2B; Stone 2C. CD 4 William Parker: Stone 3A; Stone 3B; Eventual (Written for Sunny Murray). CD 5 Hamid Drake: ESS 2A; ESS 2B; ESS 2C; ESS 2D; ESS 2E; ESS 2F.
Ken Vandermark: reeds; Paul Lytton: drums, percussion (CD 1); lkue Mori: laptop, electronics (CD 2); Kris Davis: piano (CD 3); William Parker: double bass (CD 4); Hamid Drake: drums, percussion (CD 5).