DKV Trio

Okka Disk 12042

There’s nothing like constant touring to make any ensemble tighter and its members more responsive to one another. That’s why established jazz combos of the 1950s and 1960s sounded so good. However at that time the often near miraculous timing, instant inspiration and embellishments that resulted from a well-received in-person engagement were often lost unless the band was lucky enough to be recorded on the road.

One of saxophonist Ken Vandermark’s many working units, the all-star DKV trio is a contemporary bands that recognizes the advantages of road work and on-the-spot recording. This exemplary two-CD set, recorded last year in Rochester, N.Y. and Kalamazoo, Mich., showcases how the three treat a mixture of original and classic free jazz material. Most instructive are how different versions of compositions by trumpeter Don Cherry sound in each city.

“Brown Rice” for instance, is introduced with a bass solo from longtime Vandermark associate Kent Kessler in Rochester, and is dispensed with in slightly more than 4½ minutes, after it’s probed through the kaleidoscope of Vandermak’s bass clarinet. Key pops and sonorous reverberations from the curved clarinet introduce the same piece in Kalamazoo, which stretches to 10½ minutes. Very soon it becomes a woodwind-string duet as Vandermark bears down on his horn and Kessler constructs circular patterns. When the forceful, steady beat of drummer Hamid Drake pushes the reedman to come up with one of the first recorded (literally) examples of honky-tonk bass clarinet, the tune is reconfigured as a straightforward romp.

On the other hand consider “The Thing”. In both upstate New York and Michigan, with Vandermark on riffing tenor, it becomes a highly rhythmic foot tapper that sounds as if it would be more comfortable under the fingers of tough Texas saxists like Cherry bandmates Dewey Redman or Ornette Coleman, then played by the holistic trumpeter. More exuberant and in-your-face in Rochester, Drake’s percussive pushing and prodding helps advance the piece, proving that his ongoing relationship with funk and world music is a plus for his improv work. About the same length as it is in Kalamazoo, where it’s used as a set closer, Rochester’s “Thing” gives Kessler enough space to show off his arco technique and lead the trio into “Brown Rice”.

Interestingly enough Vancermark’s tenor tones introduce “Awake Nu,” the third Cherry line, with glossolalia straight out of Albert Ayler’s “Ghosts”. Meanwhile the other two lay down a rock solid bass lines and powerful drum strokes to update Gary Peacock and Sunny Murray the way the saxist does Ayler’s legacy. At nearly 21 minutes the Rochester version gives the other two what Ayler’s sideman never had — enough room to sound solo. Drake uses his space by introducing variegated cymbal and bass drum patterns and some well-placed rim shots, while apparently steel-fingered Kessler constructs a multi-string modulation that adds some equanimity to the proceedings. Why the reedist is double-timing an ascending line that sounds like an outside version of Shirley Ellis’s “The Name Game” immediately afterwards is a question to be pondered though.

Antithetically, strains of Duke Ellington’s “Take The Coltrane” are coupled with “Awake Nu” in less than 7½ minutes in Kalamazoo. Elaborating the medley in full altissimo mode, at first Vandermark seems to be mixing “I’ve Been Workin’ On the Railroad” with “Ghosts” while Drake hammers out an even speedier rhythm. This half free/half R&B treatment is the way Ayler, who did one memorable tour with Cherry, would also have played. And, if you get into it, in their own ways John Coltrane and Ellington also mixed and matched compositional and playing styles to fit their moods.

Occasionally, with his many projects and bands in North America and overseas, it appears as if Vandermark is spreading his talents a little too thin. Yet, as long as he has musically stalwart peers such as Drake and Kessler to keep him focused, he’ll continue to turn out fine discs like these.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Disc One: 1. Awake Nu 2. The Thing 3. Brown Rice 4. Good-Bye Tom B.

5. Lift Disc Two: 1. East Broadway Run Down 2. 3. Awake Nu/Take The Coltrane 4. Brown Rice 5. Red And Black 6. Love Cry 7. The Thing

Personnel: Ken Vandermark (tenor saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet); Kent Kessler (bass); Hamid Drake (drums)