‘Free jazz’- a signifier both lionized and demonized depending on the audience and the inclination. Its exact definitions are as protean as the tides but in the grand tradition of giving personage to the abstract few better archetypes exist than the DKV Trio. Ostensibly fronted by Ken Vandermark, a transplanted Bostonian whose Chicago roots now run to the very core of that city’s enviable music scene, the outfit remains among the highest profile and most rigorously touring tentacles in the reedman’s Hydra-like arsenal of ensembles.
Attributing the band solely to his pilotage ignores the egalitarian acronym chosen as their calling card and dismisses the guiding credo of collective improvisation that fuels the majority of their musical flights. Here is a band best heard in the fire-breathing flesh where the visual can collide catalytically with the auditory in the spontaneous birthing of sight and sound. Witnessing Drake make use of all surfaces of his kit from tautly stretched skins to gleaming metal bracings and screws, a flurry of motion that translates into a continuous polyrhythmic blur. Kessler hunched and sweat-sodden, fingers hovering heatedly against his strings, tugging out tightly wound walking lines. Vandermark leaning white-lipped into his horn, loosing vampish volleys of notes and working the action of his instrument’s keys in a repetitive code of clandestine gestures. The particulars of the trio’s discography bear out this preference for real-time creation in the company of an expectant crowd. The bulk of entries are concert dates and this recent Okka offering continues the cycle by circulating the results of two more tour stops. Disc one includes a complete show while its companion presents a spliced amalgam of two sets. Track demarcations on both discs are purely for convenience sake and do not disrupt the perpetual flow of music.
Don Cherry, an admitted favorite of Vandermark’s and a former employer of Drake’s, serves as the primary source of thematic material, but anthems by Ellington and Ayler also make fleeting appearances. The reedman is careful to point out in his liners that the outside composers’ works are really only transitory springboards for internal improvisation. As a result, though they share obvious programmatic correlates both dates yield decidedly different renditions. On the initial sally through three Cherry classics the trio sounds off emphatically with Vandermark’s economical tenor leading the charge. He later loses some steam and resorts to stock phrasings, but Kessler and Drake refuse to let him rest. On the closing section of “The Thing” and the initial minutes of “Brown Rice” Kessler’s bow shears a shifting swathe of mahogany textures that expands in the wake of an uneasy start. Disc one holds slight edge if only for the inspired inclusion of Joe McPhee’s haunting “Good-Bye Tom B,” but each one effectively presents the trio doing what it does best. Perhaps even more useful this set acts an ideal litmus test for those definition-obsessed listeners searching for the perfect encapsulation of free jazz, a medium that like all incarnations of living, breathing music cannot be contained by convenient terminology or precept.
Okka Disk on the web: http://www.okkadisk.com
Track Listing: Disc One: Awake Nu/ The Thing/ Brown Rice/ Good-bye Tom B./ Lift. Disc Two: East Broadway Run Down/ Elephantasy/ Awake Nu//Take the Coltrane/ Brown Rice/ Red and Black/ Love Cry/ The Thing.
Personnel: Ken Vandermark- reeds; Kent Kessler- bass; Hamid Drake- drums. Recorded: March 24, 2001, Rochester (disc one) and March 31, 2001, Kalamazoo (disc two).
Jazz and the blues--because together this musical brother and sister speak from our nation's days of the current cultural affairs and the authenticity and truth of a place where the rhythms held the pulse and the drums the heartbeat, representing every step closer the meat on the bone
Jazz and the blues--because together this musical brother and sister speak from our nation's days of the current cultural affairs and the authenticity and truth of a place where the rhythms held the pulse and the drums the heartbeat, representing every step closer the meat on the bone. Feet in the dirt, or barefoot on a stage with sequins--it's soul beats in my chest.
I was first exposed to jazz while others listened to surf music in the '50s and '60s, it was Monk, Miles, Satchmo and Ella, Rosemary Clooney and Julie London followed. Margaret Whiting, Les McCann, Willie Bobo, Andy Simpkins, Snooky Young, Bill Basie and Helen Humes. The first time I heard Topsy, Take 2, I about passed out at the age of ten.
I've hung with Les McCann who more than 30 years after our first meeting became my duet partner on my CD, Don't Go To Strangers. Karen Hernandez from the start, Jack Le Compte on drums, Lou Shoch on bass, Steve Rawlins as my arranger and pianist, Grant Geissman - guitar genius, Nolan Shaheed, Richard Simon, and more. The big boys. My Red Hot Papas. The best show I ever attended was...
I met Helen Humes first back in 1981 and helped turn one Playboy Jazz Festival night into her tribute, bring the Basie Band to stage, her joy boys. Before she took the stage for the last time to sing, If I could Be With You One Hour Tonight thousands of copies of the newspaper I wrote for carried her story. It was kismet, her being held by Joe Williams backstage. Soon in my life were the great Linda Hopkins who told me I sang the song she wrote better than her, which floored me of course, the energizing Barbara Morrison and the stellar Marilyn Maye who guided me professionally.
My advice to new listeners... let your backbone slip and feel your body stripping back the barriers that prevent us from being one with the music.
Remember none of us are strangers, we just haven't met yet.