Resonance Ensemble (Not Two)
Before The Code
Made to Break (Trost)
by John Sharpe
Chicago-based reed player Ken Vandermark maintains a bewildering roster of projects. They embrace a mixture of improv aggregations, one-off collaborations and vehicles for his invigorating composition. In this last arena he has lately been investigating a modular compositional process, which allows his parts to emerge from the group interaction in new and unfamiliar ways both on the large and small scale.
In its relative longevity his Resonance Ensemble has outlasted many of its large-scale precursors, which were by economic necessity short-lived adventures. That’s all the more remarkable when you factor in the multi-national character of the outfit, comprising players from five countries in this incarnation. Double Arc captures the culmination of the Ensemble’s five- day residency during the 2013 Krakow Jazz Autumn, consisting of two versions of the titular piece built around Austrian laptop artist Christof Kurzmann.
The familiar Vandermark strengths remain on view in stimulating charts containing forceful themes, ensemble counterpoint, varied settings for soloists and sequences of small-group communion. There’s a wide range of dynamics from full orchestra to near silence, but generally so much happens given the cinematic sweep of the writing that description is a thankless task. It’s possible to pick out some recurring figures, such as the jaunty staccato in “Arc One: section G”, which reappears in “Arc Two: section C”, to gain an insight into Vandermark’s construction methods.
Kurzmann uses lloopp software designed to facilitate live improvising. “Arc One: section E” presents not only one of the most exciting sequences, but also fully incorporates Kurzmann’s snaking swirling line, which blurs the sonic signature of saxophone and guitar and duels with saxophone and drums. But that doesn’t mean that the rest of the allstar cast (bassist Mark Tokar, trumpeter Magnus Broo, tuba player Per-Åke Holmlander, trombonist Steve Swell, drummers Tim Daisy, Michael zerang and reed players Dave Rempis, Mikołaj Trzaska and Wacław zimpel) don’t get to strut their stuff. “Arc Two: section D” notably features blistering interplay between Swell and Broo.
Kurzmann also plays an integral role in Vandermark’s Made To Break. Before The Code constitutes their fourth and most accomplished outing to date. It’s a band that stretches the boundaries, where electronics and post-punk riffs vie with improv and skronk. Newly joined Dutch electric bassist Jasper Stadhouders (notably of power trio Cactus Truck) proves a strong addition, imparting a heavy visceral energy to the hard-driving sections and a melodic upper register to the more atmospheric passages. On drums Tim Daisy brings a tight execution married to an unruly conception, which finds unpredictable pitches melded into killer rhythms.
The combustible vamps would make good accompaniment for the freeway, although Kurzmann’s contributions would have you pull over and book into the garage for a diagnostic examination. He mixes repetitive mechanical noises with insectoid hums, howling winds and what at one point sounds like a hyperspeed accordion. He also indulges in real time manipulation and distorted playback of the leader’s horns, resulting in exhilarating exchanges during the latter stages of the lengthy “Window Breaking Hammer”.
In “Dial the Number”, an explosive start of interlocking motifs suddenly morphs into tappy percussion and slabs of electronic clamor swirling between the speakers. Later in the same cut, Vandermark demonstrates his mastery of the resources at his disposal, as first Stadhouders and Kurzmann trade textures before finally he takes up his clarinet for a scratchy keening duet with Daisy’s tattoo. Both bands remain essential for anyone interested in the continuing evolution of creative music.
For more information, visit nottwo.com and trost.at. Vandermark is at The Stone Jan. 3rd and 5th-10th, including Made to Break Jan. 10th. See Calendar.
Originally published in the January 2016 issue of the New York City Jazz Record