Ken Vandermark’s Topology Nonet ft. Joe McPhee : Impressions of Po Music


In May of 2009 the first Okka Fest took place at the Sugar Maple in Milwaukee, organized to celebrate the first fifteen years of the label. Joe was there to perform with Survival Unit III (including Fred Lonberg-Holm and Michael Zerang). On the same night, Jeb Bishop, Tim Daisy, Dave Rempis, and I played a set of arrangements I had made of Joe’s compositions from the period on Hat Hut that so greatly affected and influenced me: Astral Spirits, Future Retrospective, Pablo (from Oleo); Age, Violets For Pia (from Topology); Eroc Tinu (from Old Eyes); Sweet Dragon, Goodbye Tom B., and Knox (from Tenor). That night, at the bar after the concerts were over, I told Joe that I’d love to make an album with him in the spirit of the great Miles Davis/Gil Evans collaborations, with Joe as a featured soloist over arrangements I’d make of his pieces for a larger group. We both agreed that it was a magnificent idea. The next morning it still seemed to be, at least to me, and I began the process of organizing an octet to expand the arrangements of the pieces above. The band – which includes Jason Adasiewicz, Josh Berman, Jeb Bishop, Tim Daisy, Kent Kessler, Fred Lonberg-Holm, and Dave Rempis – first performed this material with Joe as the featured soloist at the 2nd Okka Fest, in July 2010, then again during November of that year at the 4th Umbrella Festival, in Chicago. The music was finally recorded during the summer of 2011, the day after another performance in Chicago, this time at Elastic on June 2nd. Among the many, many highlights of working with Joe and the other musicians on this project, getting to record “Goodbye Tom B.” in a duo with Joe, almost 20 years after my father first played it for me, was exceptional. The experience can only be described through the music itself.

I know that my life in music would not have happened without Joe or my father, Stu, and I’d like to dedicate this album to both of them. As Joe likes to say, I think borrowing the sentiment from Jackie McLean, “Let’s give people their flowers while they’re here.” With these musicians and with this recording I feel I’ve been lucky enough to try and do so.-Ken Vandermark
Ceske Budejovice, Czech Republic
May 1st, 2013

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