Ken Vandermark’s music has long revolved around an orbit of paying homage. The vast majority of his original pieces are of a dedicatory nature giving thanks and praise both to peers and elders. Several of his groups- Witches and Devils, Sound In Action, the one at hand- were even formed precisely with this purpose in mind. Taking its name from a Sun Ra album/composition this trio taps into the cosmic spirit of two monumental Black musical forces, Ra’s Arkestra and George Clinton’s psychedelically-charged soul collective Funkadelic.
Curiously the majority of Funkadelic tunes are paired into medleys. Vandermark’s horn is surprisingly linear on these tracks often following what would be the vocal line unerringly. During these moments the group sounds uncannily like the power trio Bazooka (another sax, bass, drums set-up led by reedman Tony Atherton) sacrificing improvisatory variety for an allegiance to the full-on funk. Not to suggest that this is an entirely adverse approach, but the rote attendance to song structure does tend to compromise the dynamism usually inherent in Vandermark’s sound. But unlike Atherton, Vandermark is in the company of a world-class rhythm section and McBride and Drake click into a litany of heavy grooves that helps mask these sacrifices, particularly when the former fits himself with electric strings and commences slapping and popping. I defy anyone to resist buckling into a knee-popping shimmy when McBride segues sure-fingeredly into the mammoth bass vamp of “Cosmic Slop.”
Overall though, it’s the Ra tunes that provide the most room for the musicians to stretch out. Drake sets his sticks swinging on a “Street Named Hell” with a tightly sculpted drum solo before Vandermark’s bass clarinet picks up the lead and dances expressively to a finish. McBride officiates as the core of “Bassism” and he goes to work on his bridge and strings with tensile digits and bow. “Trash A Go-Go” is again dominated by McBride’s fatback figures, as are in the pocket readings of “Red Hot Mama,” and “Super Stupid.” Drake, manning the atomic engine room of the spaceship stokes the fission core with his sticks, dropping profusely percussive bombs in quick succession- just check in on his syncopated interplay with McBride throughout “You and Your Folks, Me and My Folks” for a taste guaranteed to get the auditory juices flowing.
While there’s no new terrain being tilled here this disc packs an irrefutable groove wallop and will no doubt appeal to anyone with even a passing interest in the music of maestros Ra and Clinton. This disc will hopefully hip a whole new audience of listeners to this classic material. In spite a few minor foibles it’s safe to say Vandermark has submitted another winner.
Tracks:Tapestry From An Asteroid/ Alice In My Fantasies/Cosmic Slop/ Street Named Hell/ Trash A Go-Go/ Bassism/ Red Hot Mama/Super Stupid/ El Is the Sound of Joy/ Future/ You and Your Folks, Me and My Folks/Hit It and Quit It/ We Travel the Spaceways.
Players:Ken Vandermark- reeds; Nate McBride- acoustic & electric basses; Hamid Drake- drums.
Recorded: January 13 & 14, 2000, Chicago, IL.
Atavistic on the web: http://www.atavistic.com