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Barry Guy / Ken Vandermark: Occasional Poems

John Sharpe By

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For British bassist Barry Guy the concert that produced this fine double disc package occurred at the end of a four day intensive residency in Krakow culminating in the premier of an ambitious new work by his Blue Shroud Band. While for Chicago reedman Ken Vandermark, the event was the final episode in two months on the road. But whether relief or exhaustion were the dominant feelings, neither resulted in any lowering of standards or resting on laurels. Occasional Poems captures in unvarnished fidelity both sets in their entirety from the storied Alchemia club before a packed and enthusiastic audience.

Even at 67 years of age, Guy's trademark hyperkinetic style shows no sign of slowing. His lightning switches between registers, and between bowing, plucking and an array of implements to variously interrogate and cajole novel textures from the bass, remain very much in evidence. Such speed of thought is also mirrored in his responsiveness to Vandermark's ever-changing amalgam of percussiveness, lyricism, timbral investigation, and repetition, which tangentially evoke a range of genres amid an unfettered outpouring.

Pairings with reedmen have proven a familiar format for Guy over the years, as recordings with Torben Snekkestad, Mats Gustafsson, Liudas Mockunas and of course Evan Parker attest. But it's a less common scenario for Vandermark, and in fact this concert represents the first time just the two of them have taken to the stage. Nonetheless the album documents a very strong meeting of minds. Or should that be a meeting of very strong minds? The poems on this particular evening -seven duets and two soliloquies, all conjured spontaneously from the air -are bursting with ideas.

They each pay close attention to what the other is doing and largely eschew oppositional strategies. And the outcome is all the more engaging as a result. In fact the opening "Nature is a Wolf" belts out of the gate in a such a relentless garrulous dash that even the listener is left gasping for air. The same maniacal energy manifests on "Light Cuts Shadow" where Vandermark shifts to clarinet for a spacey colloquy interrupted by sudden crescendos which gradually merge into another concentrated torrent.

Another highlight comes at the start of the second set on "States of Being" when Guy wields a brush, more like a drummer than a bassist, to accompany Vandermark's jagged swirling clarinet. It seems Vandermark's proclivity for insistent reiteration rubs off on Guy who is more rhythmic than usual throughout, but especially in "I Will Sing You of the Moments," a jerky exchange of tenor saxophone plosives and taut string thwacks.

Only rarely does one man overtly take the lead, but that's what happens in the last third of the otherwise turbulent "Riding the Air" where Guy initiates an intricately fingered bass coda against which Vandermark layers soothing sustained clarinet tones. But whatever the gambit, the music evolves in a bravura display of quick reflexes and inspiration.

Track Listing: Nature is a Wolf; Light Cuts Shadow; Shadow Cuts Light; I Will Sing You of the Moments; States of Being; Pan Metron Ariston (every good thing in measure); Black, White, Red, Blue; Riding the Air; Curving of the Wave.

Personnel: Barry Guy: double bass; Ken Vandermark: clarinet, tenor and baritone saxophones.

Title: Occasional Poems | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Not Two Records

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