Friday, June 12, 2009

Ken Vandermark Goes Electric in Oslo and Chicago

There is one thing you can say about Chicago's own tenorman Ken Vandermark. He's always searching for new stylistic amalgams, unusual groupings and an expansion of his sound. There are many other things to say too, of course. But we can start with that. Take the two-CD set Powerhouse Sound Oslo/Chicago (((Breaks))) (Atavistic). Each disk has a different lineup; the first disk comes out of Oslo, the second, Chicago.

Vandermark has gained a significant following for his freewheeling alignments with out music players, especially the group he forged with trombonist Jeb Bishop. The CD at hand is a little different than what those lineups have achieved in overall feel. Here we have two electric dates that more or less take the Miles Davis sound of the early-to-mid-'70s bands. Start with a bass (and sometimes guitar) riff and funk-rock drumming that builds on endless variations, extensions of, and transgressions from, the backbeat (think DeJohnette especially). Add collage atmospherics (often psychedelic) on top of that along with lots of group interaction, and finally, solos that express a never-ending counterline to the basic riff structure.

That fundamental idea forms the cornerstone of the Powerhouse approach. They create their own musical structures over that foundation, and that of course is where the interest lies.

Everybody contributes in these ensemble efforts. Vandermark's tenor helps catalyze the music as the primary soloist. I can't help thinking as I listen repeatedly to these tracks that the further refinements and advancements they'd get from playing together regularly from this point onward would make for even more impressive results. Perhaps that already has happened or is happening.

What you get at this juncture is two exciting musical sessions that extend the "free rock" idiom while providing a platform for the soloists, particularly Vandermark himself, to find new expressive channels for their art. That's so and it makes for a very good listen.

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