Territory Band -5

New Horse for the White House
Okka Disk OD12080

Reedist Ken Vandermark’s musical version of the Lend-Lease program, this three-CD set contrasts extended live and studio versions of a quartet of the reedist’s compositions played by a mixed dozen of American and European jazzers.

Although the studio takes on the pieces – part of Chicago-based Vandermark’s articulated search for a synthesis of 21st century compositional and improvisational methods – on discs one and two are exciting, improvisational zenith is reached on disc three. Recorded at Germany’s prestigious Donaueschingen Festival in Baden-Baden a couple of days before the studio CDs in Osnabruck, Germany the cohesive (likely head) arrangements and go-for-broke soloing confirm the old adage that the best improvisation takes place live.

While extensive solo power isn’t the main attraction of the extended compositions here – especially with extensive, jittery crackles and blurs from Norwegian Lasse Marhaug’s electronic pulses – each of the players gets some exposure. Limiting himself to contrapuntal slurs from his baritone saxophone and scene-setting coloring from his clarinets, the composer leaves plenty of space for others to shine. And shine they do, considering that the band is populated with some top-flight Free-Jazz experimenters.

From Vandermark’s bands come fellow Chicagoans cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, bassist Kent Kessler, pianist Jim Baker and alto and tenor saxophonist Dave Rempis. Veteran British improv drummer Paul Lyttoln, a long-time cohort of saxophonist Evan Parker is one drummer, while Norwegian Paal Nilssen-Love, who recently seems to have backed the most prominent free players on both sides of the Atlantic is the other percussionist. German brass explorers, trumpeter Axel Dörner and trombonist Johannes Bauer make up the brass section along with Swedish tubaist Per-Åke Holmlander, with the tubaist’s countryman tenor saxophonist and clarinetist Fredrik Ljungkvist completing the reed section.

All in all, Baker and Holmlander impress as the most versatile players. Whether it’s low frequency comping or splayed tremolo runs, Baker stays in characteristic form. For instance on the live version of “Fall With A Vengeance”, he manages to suggest Rachmaninoff-like theatrical chording and boogie-woogie slanted runs within a few bars of one another. And all this is done in the midst of his accompanist work, linked with the dual drummers’ quiet rebounds and rattles and plus Kessler’s tough, but quivering bass line. Such scene-setting gives the front line even more freedom than usual. Vandermark on baritone and Bauer unite for a body tube and lead pipe duet that opens up into altissimo reed growls and trombone bluster, while Dörner unleashes a rip-snorting, jaggedly tongued solo that sounds as close to frantic Bop as anything the Berlin-based brass man has ever recorded.

Despite a dedication to Charles Mingus, the live and the studio versions of “Untitled Friction” actually showcases the tubaist’s talents. Live, the harmonic convergence of burbling pedal-point runs, soaring trumpet flourishes and steady, elaborated tones from Bauer provide the bottom upon which Rempis on alto and Ljungkvist on tenor can channel long-time Mingus sidemen John Handy and Booker Ervin respectively. Marhaug’s pulsating clouds of electronic color and ponticello string squeaks give the arrangement a European sensibility.

This is also true the studio version, which in collective organization seems to relate more to the stately big band polyphony of accomplished British composers such as Graham Collier than Mingus’ earthier creations. Among swaying horn vamps, Ljungkvist’s speedy, almost pre-modern whistling clarinet runs stand out, as does Holmlander’s ability to make an instrument usually characterized by hippo-like sound waddles to figuratively leap en pointe. Tightening and loosening his valves, while twisting and blocking them, he rumbles out capillary multiphonics far beyond what Don Butterfield ever created for Mingus.

With distinct versions of each of Vandermark’s compositions available for aural perusal the listener has plenty of material to digest. Although with three CDs, and as the shortest track is more than 16 minutes long, it may be preferable to hear the music is smaller, more manageable chunks. Still, the uniform high quality means there’s much to savor.

— Ken Waxman


Personnel: Axel Dörner (trumpets); Johannes Bauer (trombone); Per-Åke Holmlander (tuba); Dave Rempis (alto and tenor saxophones); Fredrik Ljungkvist (tenor saxophone and clarinet); Ken Vandermark (baritone saxophone, Bb and bass clarinet); Jim Baker (piano); Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello); Kent Kessler (bass); Paul Lytton and Paal Nilssen-Love (percussion) and Lasse Marhaug (electronics)

Track Listing: CDl: 1. Fall With A Vengeance (for Park Chanwook) 2. Untitled Fiction (for Charles Mingus) CD2: 3. Corrosion (for Barnett Newman) 4. Cards (for Jorge Borges CD3: 1. Fall With A Vengeance (for Park Chanwook) 2. Untitled Fiction (Charles Mingus) 3. Corrosion (for Barnett Newman) 4. Cards (for Jorge Borges)