Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Ken Vandermark - Momentum 4: Consequent Duos 2015>2019 (Audiographic Records, 2019)

This is a collection of duet recordings with multi-reedist Ken Vandermark in collaboration with five of the most exciting musicians in today's music: Kris Davis, Hamid Drake, Paul Lytton, Ikue Mori, and William Parker. The music was recorded during performances at Vandermark’s second Stone residency in New York City during January of 2018, and at the Experimental Sound Studio in Chicago.
The first disc sees Vandermark meeting the great British percussionist Mark Sanders, and the two get along splendidly, playing six duets that range from fiery free jazz to spare minimalism and almost droning free improvisation. Their ability to be patient and take what the other musician is giving is the key to this encounter, whether its a percussion duet of restrained drumming and hollow saxophone popping, or unrestrained wailing, they are both perfectly in check. The dynamic nature of their improvisation is the fuel that keeps the music moving forward, there's a different sensibility at play than when Vandermark plays with his regular partners like Paal Nilssen-Love, but the spark is there and they make the most of it.
Ikue Mori is Vandermark's next partner, performing on laptop and electronics while he moves between clarinet and saxophone. They cover a wide range of territory, using long tones of reeds and percussive electronics to begin and soon Mori is branching out into strange sounds both organic and science fictional in her interactions with Vandermark's hoarse sounding clarinet. They are able to combine on a tapestry of light sounds with percussive electronics and Morse code like popping of the reeds, finally moving into quick bursts of repetitive clarinet figures around chimes like electronics. 
Kris Davis was an inspired choice for a duet, a pianist who is comfortable playing mainstream as well as avant-garde jazz, she is a force to be reckoned with. Beginning with repetitive low-end piano and increasingly loud clarinet, their improvisation builds a stark emotional appeal as Vandermark launches peals into the sky over the ever-changing piano ground work. It's not all fireworks, as Vandermark turns to saxophone for a ballad like passage that becomes more strident in tone but retains the available space as the tenor saxophone becomes rough and grating in opposition to the clearer piano. They move into a repeating figure for piano, dropping depth charge chords amid stark raw buzzing clarinet to create an alarming overall sound. Finally there is an improvisation for tenor saxophone and ascending and descending piano chords before a lengthy pause and a gentle piano outro.
Bassist William Parker joins Vandermark for disc four, with saxophone and bass creating an unflappable sense of poise, digging in and playing in an unadorned manner as if nothing else mattered. Slapping bass can create a percussive effect during a quiet and spacious improvisation building a patient and thoughtful feel. They will frame their performances with long tones of saxophone and bowed bass before switching to taut bowing and plucking. Parker can keep can keep a heartbeat like pace while Vandermark explores strong and free, blowing in a different path creating nervously atmospheric tearing sounds. 
The final disc features drummer and percussionist Hamid Drake, a long time playing partner, whom has performed with Vandermark in many different situations, but surprisingly, this is their first recording as a duet. You wouldn't know it by listening, because they are very focused, maintaining speed and rhythm as they drive their performances forward in a fast and true manner. The music has a wonderful bounce and snap with the music tumbling out at breakneck speed with multi-dimensional percussion and fleet tenor saxophone taking their music to successively higher planes. They are just as deft in the open sections where Drake can a apply a soft hand while interacting with Vandermark's skittish clarinet, which ends the performance on a quiet and respectful note.
This was a wonderful collection of very high quality progressive jazz, all five performances are meetings of equals where the musicians are at the peaks of their powers. The boxed set also has a booklet with considerable liner notes along with original photographs and artwork that provides additional context for the music. Momentum 4: Consequent Duos 2015>2019 - Bandcamp

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