Transatlantic Bridge
Okka Disk OD 12040

Chicago saxophonist Ken Vandermark has found a profitable and satisfying way to invest his money.

Be assured you haven't stumbled onto a business Web site, by mistake. But it's important to note that the multi-reedist, who in 1999 won a $265,000 so-called "genius grant" from the MacArthur Foundation didn't turn into a Regis contestant and blow the money frivolously. Instead he's dealt with it the same way he's utilized all the opportunities that have gone his way since he moved to the Windy City in the early 1990s: created more work for himself and other musicians.

Vandermark's newly-found funds have helped bankroll tours by Peter Brötzmann's Tentet of which he's a member; helped provide travel opportunities for his own various bands; helped bring overseas musicians to North America; and aided in the recording of large aggregations like this one.

As much as any Survivor contestant, though, Vandermark has selfish motives as well. His grant money allows him to work in different venues in more places that he would otherwise; permits him to trade ideas with diverse musicians; and in the case of this superior CD, have a larger band with particular soloists play newly-composed music. Plus his funds mean this group not only feature seven Chicago players, but two EuroImprov veterans — German trumpeter Axel Dörner and British drummer Paul Lytton — as well.

However, unlike the selfishness of the TV show Survivors, Vandermark isn't using these musicians for self-aggrandizement. Instead, like Duke Ellington, he's trying to create parts for the specific individuals that he can now hire to play his tunes. Dörner, trombonist Jeb Bishop and pianist Jim Baker, in fact, seem to get as much, if not more solo space than the composer himself on the CD's four lengthy tunes.

An old hand at bands of this size, Dörner, has, in the past, contributed his talents to such European stand-bys as the Berlin Contemporary Jazz Orchestra and The London Jazz Composers Orchestra. Here on compositions such as "RM", he can be as brassy and raucous as any street punk at one moment, then contribute stretches of pregnant silence elsewhere. Bishop, one-fifth of the reedist's regular combo, the Vandermark 5, gets his showcase on "Mobile". A slow, stately, near-Romantic piece, Bishop invests his solo section with pinched multiphonics that protractedly explore the bone's air column and valves at one point, then introduce elegant, legato open horn washes elsewhere.

Barker, a thoroughly-grounded modern pianist who often works around Chicago with tenor titan Fred Anderson as well as in some of Vandermark's other bands — the hornman has more working groups than George W. Bush has close energy industry "friends" — is versatile as well. Sounding like the final word in direct modal coloring on "Collage", he can also be as understated and unobtrusive as needed elsewhere.

As always, bassist Kent Kesler is a tower of strength throughout, drummers Paul Lytton and Tim Mulvenna trade off roles as powerful, kit explorers at one point and indirect percussion alchemists elsewhere. Meanwhile Vandermark and fellow saxophonist Dave Rempis frequently leap feet — or is that lip — first into the fray. Often sounding like the 1960s Archie Shepp, the two do Mrs. Leary's cow one better, creating enough combustion to consume the Sears Tower with some left over for the Merchandise Mart as well.

TERRITORY BAND probably refers to the space between Europe and North America and 1 is the first of many sessions. We can only hope they're all as exciting as this one.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Collage 2. RM 3. Mobile 4. Stabile

Personnel: Axel Dörner (trumpet and slide trumpet); Jeb Bishop (trombone); Dave Rempis (alto and tenor saxophones) Ken Vandermark (tenor saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet); Jim Baker (piano); Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello); Kent Kessler (bass); Paul Lytton and Tim Mulvenna (drums)