Ken Vandermark Creates Something Amazing – Again by Jessica Hopper


Though festival season is still a ways off, this week a microfest is happening in Chicago that is sure to impress and entertain jazz fans — whether they are novices or aficionados.

The International Resonance Festival brings together European players and Chicago locals for small shows all next week. But the hot ticket is when they’ll all be playing in one band, the Ken Vandermark-helmed Resonance Ensemble, a tentet.

Saxophonist/composer Vandermark is perhaps the best-known name in local jazz; in 1999, he was the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant. We recently spoke to Vandermark, while he was on tour in Europe.

Q: What was the inspiration to put this together, particularly to pull in players from Eastern Europe?

A: I had been working extensively in Poland for several years with a number of my groups, particularly in Krakow, and thought it was time to put together a project that featured musicians from that part of the world.

Q: Previously, you’ve played in a group this size — Peter Brotzmann’s Tentet; did your playing in that ensemble inform your desire to put this together?

A: The first large group that I worked with and wrote for was Peter Brotzmann’s Chicago Tentet. After that, when I won the MacArthur prize, I used funds to develop my own expanded ensemble, the Territory Band, which featured musicians from Chicago and Europe, because I learned that I loved writing for large-scale bands. The Resonance Ensemble is an extension of the work that I did composing for those two previous groups.

Q: While the Chicago names are likely familiar to locals — Tim Daisy, Michael Zerang — can you tell me a bit about some of the other folks — the Polish players in particular?

A: Unfortunately, Mark Tokar, the bassist from the Ukraine, will not be able to make the trip due to problems with his visa. The two musicians from Poland, Mikolaj Trzaska and Waclaw Zimpel, are fantastic reed players and exciting improvisers, with their own voice. Both of them are well-established on the cutting-edge music scene in Poland and are developing more and more contacts and experiences throughout Europe and the United States.

Q: You’ve led and put together a wide variety of groups. What is it about playing with the big band, composing for a big ensemble, that pushes you? How do you orient yourself? What are your goals when you are playing with so many instruments and such varied players?

A: Working with a large ensemble is much more than just an expansion of a small group; everything changes — the balance between individual improvisation to group composition, dynamics, power and weight of sound, combinations of color, etc.

The writing needs to have very specific clarity so that all the musicians are thinking about their relationship to the compositions, their roles in the group sound, in the same way. And the architecture of the musical structure, the forms of expression, have to be balanced more carefully or the weight of the ensemble implodes in upon itself, creating chaos instead of meaning.

This challenge fascinates me, and every time I have the chance to write for a group like this with such fantastic musicians, I am incredibly inspired. This Resonance Ensemble concert … is a rare opportunity for people to hear the large-band work that I’ve been doing only in Europe

When: 2 p.m. Sunday

Where: Claudia Cassidy Theater, Chicago Cultural Center,

78 E. Washington St.

Price: Free (all ages); 312.744.6630

Originally published March 4th 2011 on

Original link: