You, me, the music, and me.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Atavistic ALP160CD (2006)

If multireedist/composer Ken Vandermark seems like he's in some sort of competition to release the most albums per year by an avant-jazz musician (look out, Anthony Braxton!), it's just because he's the kind of guy who likes to stay busy (both for pleasure and out of necessity, as the new documentary film Musician shows). Gate finds him in one of his many band lineups, the Sound in Action trio, which is made up of Vandermark and drummers Robert Barry and Tim Daisy.

The lack of a bass, piano, or some sort of chordal accompaniment gives the trio a unique sound not unlike that of the duo of John Coltrane and Rashied Ali on their classic album of duets Interstellar Space. Vandermark's brawny tenor and slinky bass clarinet fill in any gaps left by the absence of another non-percussive instrument, and Barry and Daisy play as one powerful entity beneath and beside him.

Even on the freest, most abstract cuts (such as "Slate" and a cover of Albert Ayler's "Love Cry"), the beat never seems to waver, allowing Vandermark to indulge himself in punchy, spiraling solos throughout (as on a faithful cover of Coltrane's "One Down, One Up"). Gate shows that even the freest jazz can still have a strong rhythmic foundation (especially with a great drummer or two on board).

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

ORNETTE COLEMAN The Complete Science Fiction Sessions

Columbia/Legacy C2K 63569 (2000)

The greatest jazz album of all time? Sure, why not? At the very least, Ornette Coleman's Science Fiction deserves a spot at or near the very top of the "free jazz" echelon, and is a masterpiece by any musical standards. This double-disc reissue pairs the 1972 classic with another album of unused material from the same sessions (1982's Broken Shadows).

The album was a reunion of sorts for Coleman with his "classic quartet" bandmates from the late fifties/early sixties. After taking some time off, Ornette had reemerged mid-decade with a trio that toured and recorded in Europe intermittently. These sessions find bassist Charlie Haden, trumpeter Don Cherry, and drummers Billy Higgins and Ed Blackwell in fine form ten to fifteen years later, playing hard and fast with a seemingly telepathic link between each other and their leader. It reminds one of Greil Marcus' comments on the reunion of the 1970's pre-punk band Rocket from the Tombs in 2000; the youthful slash-and-burn angst of many years ago was still present in the performances of these middle-aged men, just waiting to be released... the only difference was that everyone could play better.

Tracks like "Civilization Day", "Rock the Clock", and "Happy House" flatten everything in their path with a punkish energy, while curiosities like "What Reason Could I Give" and "Good Girl Blues" (featuring vocals by Asha Puthli and Webster Armstrong) provide variety to the proceedings and still sound energized and committed. The Complete Science Fiction Sessions is as essential to any self-respecting jazz fan's collection as Miles Davis' Kind of Blue or the works of Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong.