Burn The Incline
Atavistic ALP 121 CD

Another day, another disk might well be the motto of Chicago multi-reedist Ken Vandermark. Only in his mid-30s, the saxophonist/clarinetist is so prolific in the recording studio, that at times it seems as if he's challenging Anthony Braxton, Steve Lacy and David Murray — men in their 50s and 60s — to see who can put out the greatest number of CDs in a year, or perhaps over the course of a career.

Luckily Vandermark tries to add something to the jazz cannon with each release and evolve separate personalities for each of his many groups. The Vandermark 5, for instance, his main compositional outlet, has steadily evolved to become the top showcase for youngish midwestern jazzers. In fact, BURN appears to be as much a showcase for Bishop or Kessler as for Vandermark.

It's Bishop's versatility that hits you first. One minute he's churning out arena style hard rock chords on guitar on tunes like "Distance", then he shifts into being an oh-so-cool J.J. Johnson acolyte on the aptly-named "The Cooler". Elsewhere he'll get down and dirty on the horn on "Accident Happening" or use his rhythm guitar skills to unspectacularly comp behind the soloists on "In Focus".

Kessler's art is much subtler. Upfront, when he ingeniously brings in the first track with a bass solo, you can be impressed by his power mixed with restraint. Other places, though, his sound barely pokes through the other instruments, guilefully controlling the rhythm with suggestion and gesture more than volume.

As for Vandermark, this session mostly allows him to exhibit his long-lined Dr. Jekyll-like clarinet playing and his rougher-edged saxophone sorties, reflecting the Mr. Hyde side of his playing. Despite his free jazz credentials on the later, his black stick improvisations may ultimately turn out to be more interesting. Since most modern clarinetists seem to be drawn towards very small groups and a 21st century version of the Third Stream, someone who can play with power in a larger group context is a valuable man to have around.

In short this is another fine glimpse into the mind of Ken Vandermark circa December 1999. With the talent amassed here, it will be interesting to see what he (and they) have in store for the new millennium.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Distance 2. The Cooler 3. Late Night Wait Around 4. Roulette 5. Accident Happening 6. In Focus 7. The Trouble Is 8. Ground

Personnel: Jeb Bishop (trombone, guitar); Dave Rempis (alto and tenor saxophone); Ken Vandermark (tenor saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet); Kent Kessler (bass); Tim Mulvenna (drums)