The current Village Voice is running an article reviewing the two most recent Ken Vandermark CDs, and it got me to thinking about Vandermark and his voluminous output. I'vee enjoyed the majority of the music that I've heard from him, which isn't everything by a long shot. He's recorded in a multitude of contexts, the most well known of them being the Vandermark 5, which is a solid ensemble putting out music that skirts the borders between composed music and free jazz. The last two V5 discs, Free Jazz Classics and Airports for Light were honorable mentions for me in the best of 2002 and 2003 respectively.
My favorite Vandermark group is the Spaceways Inc. group with Hamid Drake on drums and bassist Nate McBride. This group came together in the late 90's originally playing the music or George Clinton and Sun Ra. Their first disc, Thirteen Cosmic Standards consisted of the compositions of these two musical giants, while the most recent one, Version Soul (top ten 2002) put the Ra and Clinton vision to work on original tunes to great effect.
I've only heard a little bit of some of the other bands he's in. School Days finds Vandermark and a group of contemporary Scandinavian musicians along with long time cohort Jeb Bishop on trombone. The vibes of Kjell Nordeson add some interesting texture to the music. Territory Band is an octet group which allows for more textured improvisation. This group has allowed Vandermark to continue is interesting in writing compositions dedicated to and influenced by visual artists.
All in all, this adds up to a fascinating musician who is able to look to the future and the past in equal measure. One can only hope that he continues to document his work in the future as extensively as he has in the past
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