Ken Vandermark : Raw and Refined


Listener Conceptions

AAJ-e: Indeed, different listeners come away with different impressions. While a work fully explained loses at least some of its mystery and wonder, does it trouble you if your work isn’t understood in the way you intended? Listener interpretation does seem like a double-edged sword.

KV-e: There really isn’t anything I can do to regulate how a listener hears the music, nor would I want to if I could. Part of the responsibility for the creative process is placed on the audience. In an ideal situation the listeners are willing to take open-minded risks when listening to what we do. When that happens, I feel confident that their impressions will make sense relative to whatever reference points they bring to the experience.

AAJ: Can recordings misrepresent what’s going on in a band? I remember reading somewhere that Ornette was upset because his saxophone was mixed too far up front on one of the Atlantic albums. On a similar note, with Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, Coltrane is recorded at a volume that puts him up front. But if you reduce Coltrane’s volume on the left channel to balance with the drums, it’s much easier to hear the whole band firing on all cylinders.

KV: It’s interesting you mention the Coltrane and Ornette stuff in this way because I just got back from Boston doing some work with Luther Gray and Joe Morris, and Luther was talking about the same thing about the Ornette Atlantic records and the John Coltrane Impulse records in terms of the drum levels; that he found them to be significantly lower than they would be in reality. And certainly Elvin Jones was a very, very powerful drummer and I think that, in a sense that music was developed and performed in person, it was designed for that. You know it’s not studio music it’s performance music. And I think the live albums that exist of those groups can be very helpful in maybe perceiving the balance between the instruments maybe more realistically in some cases, as they would be in performance. I mean that One Down One Up recording that just came out, you look at the photographs of John Coltrane and Elvin Jones at that club, at the Half Note, basically playing right into each other about two feet away at the most. The volume of that and the blend of that is going to be, I think iquite a bit different than it gets represented on the records.

All that kind of stuff, for me personally, is interesting because the music that Coltrane was writing, I think without question, was developed with Elvin Jones’ percussion playing in mind, his drumming in mind. That’s why he ended up deciding on Elvin Jones, I mean he tried other drummers who are fantastic drummers, and he was obviously looking for something only Elvin Jones was able to provide. And later he made other changes to the rhythm section as his music changed so I think that the kind of density, the polyrhythmic characteristic of Elvin’s playing, the volume of Elvin’s playing, were all part of the aesthetic that Coltrane was dealing with and writing for.

It would have been amazing for me to see that group play live and actually experience what it was and then, you know I could listen to those records and translate those experiences to the albums and maybe have a shorthand to the actual experience, you know what I mean?

AAJ: Oh yeah you’re not alone, I missed out on live Coltrane too.

KV: Yeah, [laughs] a lot of us did.

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