Free Jazz Blog Reviews the Shelter Record


Shelter, a new project from saxophonist Ken Vandermark, starts out on somewhat familiar ground – Nate Wooley’s trumpet and Vandermark’s sax hurtling a melody with an uptempo urgency. It all seems quite normal until they smack into the rhythm section, and the momentum is suddenly yanked in a different direction. An akimbo pulse takes precedence, and Vandermark joins bassist Jasper Stadhouders on some low register counter point, while drummer Steve Heather plays a tight near-funk beat. Wooley continues with an energetic and rhythmically deft melody. About halfway through they switch it up – Stadhouders picks up the guitar and Vandermark takes over the lead, delivering a series of musical punches. As the track winds down, Heather unveils his full array of his percussion and amid a colorful clatter some forlorn notes from the baritone saxophone.

The quartet follows a different muse on  ‘Accidentals Don’t Carry’. In fact, I wonder if this is just a split in a continuation of the first track as it begins with Heather’s abstract percussion, which is soon joined by Vandermark in a flurry of activity. Wooley joins in the fun, and it becomes a duet between drum and trumpet. A bit after the midway point, Vandermark rejoins and plays a tandem melody with Wooley. The track ‘Burnt Nijal’ also starts with Heather’s percussion (albeit more sparse this time) and his use of the simple electronic noise maker, the cracklebox. Wooley, matching the boxes’ tones, certainly shows his command of extended technique. The track is a playground of sound and light mayhem, constricting around a gentle theme that soon comes undone again. Of all the tracks, ‘Bartleby’ has the most traditional free jazz approach. Heather’s extended solo leads to an intense blow out. The final piece, ‘Pan’, ties it all together. The track is built around a medium-tempo electronic beat, while a simple but effective bass line under-gird snippets of melody and electronic noise. It’s at once retro and the future, and it really ties the room together.

My iTunes has categorized Shelter under punk. I wonder where algorithms get their ideas. Maybe there are rock elements, irreverent moments where Wooley pushes his trumpet into white noise and Stadhouders’ distorted guitar adds some crunch, or Heather adds a percussive clatter, but more importantly Vandermark seems to be onto something. Combining his recent duo work with Wooley and his powerful electronics heavy group Made to Break (which includes Stadhouders), the outcome, Shelter, is a forward thinking post-free Jazz/post punk/post rock milepost on the way to somewhere altogether new.

– Paul Acquaro, July 28th 2017, Free Jazz Blog