The released of the cd “Provoke” is the result of a three day series of concerts, by a Ken Vandermark’s new project, during the commemoration, in Lisbon, of the 10th anniversary of the label Clean Feed. This is it: Made to Break, a quartet shared with electronicist Christoff Kurzmann, electric bassist Devin Hoff and drummer Tim Daisy. “New”, here, means literally a different approach from the many others tried and accomplished by the Chicagoan saxophonist and clarinetist, even if there’s connections with some aspects of the explorations signed by FME, Frame Quartet and Spaceways Inc.
There’s one main principle followed, and this is named “modular organization”. It consists in the tactical combination of distinct defined modules in always changing compositions, or “comp-improvisations” to be exact, because the purpose is to apply an alternative writing for improvisers. «I’m trying to move further outside of “jazz resources and aesthetics” and to utilize different sources of rhythmic/melodic ideas inspired from other genres of music I’m interested in (funk, rock, European free improvisation and the New York School of composition – Cage, Feldman, Wolff, Brown) in order to find new ways to organize compositional material», says Vandermark.
Some modules are groovy oriented, others get more abstract and disjointed, and others still have an ambient feeling, interconnecting as if a puzzle is being formed. The criteria: «Modular organization allows me to reshape the structure of the music from its components at each performance, and in addition it allows the musicians to improvise sub-structures based on these components because all the members of the band can immediately hear how someone else is referring to the composed elements or is reinventing them. It’s a fluid basis of cause and effect between composition and improvisation, but one that can invert this “hierarchy” so that the spontaneous music creates a force that affects the pre-determined elements.»
Comparing “Provoke” to “Lacerba”, you may recognize the thematic supports, but the way they’re sequenced and interpreted varies. «The paths between the written components are never permanent, and this creates a situation where the improvising is almost forced to invent new ways of responding to the composed sections», explains Ken Vandermark. In consequence, what we have is two versions of a never ending process in which «the shift in trajectories have an impact in the improvisation».
Why this kind of strategies, considering that in a jazz context the composer is already writing music for improvisers? Because times changed: «What I am trying to do is ask questions about what this process means now, not based on forms or aesthetics that were in many cases developed before I was born. And the answers I’m finding to these questions are leading me further away from jazz conventions for composition, and toward structures that create more risk and spontaneity, more responsibility, for the improviser. »
So, here are two aspects of a more flexible “jazz” in the beginning of the 21st century, with a higher level of openness, certainly, but going even further. «What we’re really talking about is developing a new set of languages for improvisers. In some cases things are more open, but sometimes things are more confrontational, more deconstructed, more antagonistic, more restricted – all in an effort to expand the possibilities for composition and improvisation», concludes Ken Vandermark.
In other words: if you miss this very surprising and committed CD, you’ll miss a part of the future in construction…