|Blow Horn is the Ken Vandermark record of the month. Vandermark is an improvising artist (an artist of the moment) and currently he is one of the best to be found in the U.S. Like all true artists “of the moment” he’s as prolific as hell. Among his various recent projects: Hal Russell’s successor in the NRG Ensemble, the DKV Trio with drummer Hamid Drake and bassist Kent Kessler, the Steelwool Trio with Kessler and drummer Curt Newton and Compass with Newton and saxophonist Steve Norton (both of Debris) and bassist Nate McBride (of Joe Morris’ trio). FJF is a quartet of Vandermark with NRG Ensemble cohorts Kessler and [Steve] Hunt and Swedish reed player [Mats] Gustafsson. The thread that runs through all these projects is that the music will be both intense and intelligent.
This record is no exception. It opens with a full-throttle group assault. Kessler and Hunt lay out an all-over rhythmic base while Gustafsson and Vandermark scream and wail above. They start at a point which would be peak playing for others. Which makes it all the more shocking when, halfway through, both horns and bass lay out and Hunt launches into a drum solo which, while essaying a drastic textural shift, doesn’t drop the energy level one bit.
Blow Horn is an energy record but it’s far from one-dimensional. “Blow Horn for Service” finds the soloing horns underpinned by Kessler’s loping gait. Gustafsson’s solo (with commentary by Vandermark) is a bit reminiscent of Archie Shepp in his fire music heyday. “Biomass” is a glacially moving sound exploration for baritone, bass clarinet, arco bass, and small percussion. “Structure a la Malle” has Kessler playing a slow meandering bass line while Hunt kicks the tempo along with fleet rhythmic patterns. The net effect is a rhythm section that sounds like it’s simultaneously expanding and contracting. While the focus of this record is on Vandermark and Gustafsson, it’s the rhythm that holds the music together. Despite the fact that there’s an obvious foreground and background to this music, one can listen to any of the four players at any time and be assured that there will be something worthwhile listening to. Recommended.
- Robert Iannapollo
Cadence, February 1998