Feeling Free to Break Jazz Conventions


When a band names itself Made to Break, you can’t help think its music is in some respect combustible, that whatever formation it was built on was designed to splinter and scatter – and maybe even make a bit of racket in the process.

That explains some of what makes this quartet formed by Chicago reed player and free jazz forefather Ken Vandermark work. The band – rounded out by longtime Vandermark ally Tim Daisy on drums, Jasper Stadhouders on electric bass and Christof Kurzmann on electronics – often works off a groove before bending it, deconstructing it, refurbishing it and, in a few cases, obliterating it. Then, in a blend of compositional form and free improvising, the four players grab hold of another idea.

For Vandermark, though, Made to Break is simply another step toward a new form of jazz expression.

“This band is really focused on trying to come up with a different approach to improvising and using different kinds of materials that are less conventionally connected to jazz and improvised music,” he said. “It’s more connected, really, to my interests in funk and reggae and rock music, but also my interests in working with electronic musicians.

“In the 21st century, for some reason, it seems like this idea of jazz has been really codified in terms of the stylistic concern, which doesn’t interest me at all. But the idea of playing and improvising and connecting that material you really relate to in your own time period, … I directly connect with that. I think Made to Break is an example of a way to do that now.”

One of the more immediate differences between Made to Break and several of Vandermark’s previous groups (The Vandermark 5, Free Music Ensemble and duo settings with Daisy) is that half of the music is conjured by electric instrumentation.

Stadhouders, who replaced bassist Devin Hoff after the release of Made to Break’s third and newest album, “Cherchez la Femme,” supplies much of the initial groove while Kurzmann offers an ambient, almost orchestral canvas for new melodies and improvs to develop. Or at least, that’s one of the design plans within Made to Break’s music. Vandermark is keen on not allowing any form of routine to develop within the playing.

“With Made to Break, there is written material specific to a piece of music, but all those components are extremely flexible within the piece,” he said. “So, in a sense, the form of the tune is improvised. We know all the parts, but the way that they get assembled – the way I may play a melody or how Tim may play part of the groove or how the bass line will come in … all of that stuff is spontaneous choice. So no one can really decide ahead of time what they are going to do because they have to listen all the time.

“Getting familiar with working that way and not getting thrown by looking for the normal signposts that indicate where to go next in a piece of music really took some time to get a handle on.”

Made to Break also presents a balance of nationalities. Vandermark and Daisy live in – and work out of – Chicago, Stadhouders resides in Amsterdam, and Kurzmann divides time between Buenos Aires and his native Vienna.

“I came up in the Chicago scene and that defined a huge aspect of the resources I had and the experiences I had,” Vandermark said. “But I find a lot of connections in Europe. That’s partly why I go back so much to perform there. Very often with the bands I’m in now, I’m the only American – and I love that. It’s this dynamic between having a home base in Chicago and traveling to Europe that provides the balance in my creative life.”

By Walter Tunis

Originally published on April 30th 2014 at http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/04/30/4089432_feeling-free-to-break-jazz-conventions.html