Resonance Ensemble : Kafka In Flight



Released by Resonance Ensemble [view band]
Record Label Not Two
Year released 2011
Release format CD
The first album I bought as a kid, with my own money, was a Woody Herman album featuring his Thundering Herds from the 1945-47 period; where they played charts like “Woodchopper’s Ball,” “Apple Honey,” “The Good Earth,” “Wild Root,” and “Four Brothers.”  Though I didn’t know it at the time, this was a document of a big band in transition, moving from the Swing era towards BeBop (with the help of people like Dizzy Gillespie, who wrote arrangements for the band in 1942).  I grew up with the records of Duke Ellington, Gil Evans & Miles Davis, and Count Basie playing on my father’s stereo.  I’m not sure if this is the reason why I am so attached to writing for larger ensembles, or if it’s just that composing for bigger groups is such a phenomenal experience; maybe it’s a bit of both.  But the end result is the same- for me, there is something permanently important and interesting about composing for, and working with, a large group.The first chance I had to really write for a big ensemble was given to me by Peter Brötzmann, for the initial version of his Chicago Tentet.  The piece was called, “Other Brothers,” a nod to Jimmy Giuffre’s famous composition for Woody Herman’s Thundering Herd, “Four Brothers,” and an acknowledgement of the saxophone lineup in the band at that time: Peter Brötzmann, Mats Gustafsson, Mars Williams, myself.  That was in 1997.  Since then, I’ve continued to try and find more opportunities to keep writing for larger groups.  The Territory Bands I put together throughout the start of this century were the first chances I had to organize my own ensembles of this type.  There were two “one off” Chicago orchestras during this period as well- the Crisis Ensemble, which played at the 2003 Chicago Jazz Festival; and the Index Orkest, which played at the second anniversary of the Immediate Sound Series at the Hideout in Chicago during April of 2008 (another nod, this time to the Ex Orkest).

My next chance to write for an extended group came at the instigation of Marek Winiarski, of Not Two records.  The first work we did on this project was released on the “Live in Lviv” lp, (released in 2008) and the “Resonance Box Set.” (released in 2009).  One of the primary issues facing any band that deals with written material is having enough time to rehearse.  In a larger ensemble this problem is compounded many times over.  With the Territory Bands, and the Chicago groups mentioned above, it was possible to rehearse for several days due to MacArthur financing (in the case of the Territory Band) or the close proximity of the musicians involved (in the case of the Chicago based groups).  The first music performed by the Resonance Ensemble in 2007 was possible because we had five days of rehearsals in Krakow before our initial concert together in Lviv, Ukraine.  On the second occasion, before the European tour in 2009 when this album was recorded, there were only two days of rehearsal before the first show; and one of them was lost because almost half the band got stuck in transit (Tim Daisy, Per-Åke Holmlander, Steve Swell, and Mikolaj Traska, performed last on a bill of the opening night of concerts in Krakow at Alchemia, making it just in time to go on stage.  Mikolaj formed a group out of this quartet because the music went so well that night, called Inner Ear, which went on tour in Poland a year later.  Maybe that lineup is a bit cursed- half of the band showed up too late to play on the opening night of its December tour- Tim and Steve were stuck in transit again, this time for 13 hours at the Munich airport hours due to snow…).

So, like the Woody Herman album mentioned above, this recording documents the sound of a group in transition.  The near lack of rehearsal time meant that my original approach to writing for the Resonance Ensemble, which was fairly complex and an extension of the work that I had done with the Territory Bands, needed to be thrown out the window.  To solve time constraint problem, I developed a modular system of composition- specific thematic material that could be taught quickly, and that could be resequenced and intercut with different predetermined sonic environments and improvisational strategies before each performance; the set list became the tune- different orders of themes, different improvisers creating the links to the next areas of development.  This kept the music spontaneous and easy to learn. The strategy was extremely successful, throughout the tour it was possible to try different soloists or collectives on different parts of the components at every performance.  All of the musicians (what a band!) rose to both the challenge of the music and the insanity of being in a small bus together riding from Poland to Italy to Hungary to Poland to Ukraine to Poland… It was an amazing trip, seven concerts in eleven days by the full ensemble, which culminated with the show in Gdansk, documented on this album.  That concert wasn’t definitive, no performance of music based on improvisation ever is, but it was a definite highlight in the Resonance Ensemble’s career so far- more than 600 enthusiastic people in attendance and a standing ovation that followed the conclusion of the music and the tour.  When people ask me why Poland has had such a profound impact on my creative career, I think of nights like one in Gdansk- the music, the musicians, the audience, the experience shared.  My sincere thanks must go to Marek Winiarski, who, once again, made it all possible.

Ken Vandermark, Chicago, January 10, 2011.