Standards Review

Ken Vandermark - Standards

from Cadence, Vol. 22 No. 8, August 1996
written by Milo Fine

Concert For Jimmy Lyons, one of Vandermark's initial documents,
was accompanied by liners ripe with name-dropping. And while such
adulation, and indeed the curiously indignant rejoinder Vandermark
penned in response to the review of that document can be attributed
to youthful enthusiasm and idealism, it can likewise point to the
incunabula of, to put it in the current lexicon, a "scenester." In
the ensuing few years, Vandermark has curated events, including
Company-derived sessions under the banner Head Exam, wherein he
plays and networks with all manner of improvising musicians;
diversified by founding more groups than, as the old cliche goes,
Heinz has varieties; hit the road to spread the word; begun
collaborating with internationally recognized players; and
exponentially accelerated his public documentation.

The CD at hand, subtitled "Four Improvising Trios (Chicago)" on
the spine, in what is most likely a nod to Anthony Braxton, was,
as noted in the liners, conceptually inspired by Peter Kowald's
Duos. (While the German bassist showcased dialogues with European,
Japanese and American players, Vandermark plans to amend these
Chicago encounters with documents of meetings in Boston and San
Fancisco.) The impetus for the trio with Williams and Zerang can
be found in the Evan Parker-driven reed encounter Duets,
. And, if that's not enough to insure an
endorsement from politically correct avant garde music watchdogs,
the disc is dedicated to the late John Stevens.

With the exception of Drumm's uninvolving post-Keith Rowe/Donald
Miller noise antics, and Baker's not-quite-convincing, mainly
fragmented piano gambits on "Nostalgia"- his gurgling synthesizer
contributions on "Year" and "Walking," intertwined with Scanlan's
sound-based examinations being of greater import - individual
contributions range from able (Williams and Zerang) to striking.
Though Drake's transitions from pulse-based to free playing tend
to be overly delineated, he's nonetheless an imposing presence.
The same is true for Hunt, whose loosely rolling, propulsive
polyrhythms provide a rich backdrop, and Kessler, whose post-Alan
Silva arco stylings offer up hearty rhythmic counterpoint on the

Whether in his preferred extended technique mode of sputtering,
broken phrases, or sinewy raging lines circling within a geometry
bordered by Lyons, Braxton, Evan Parker, Peter Brotzmann, Albert
Ayler, et. al., or examining decidedly lyrical realms ("Staircase"),
there's no doubting the marked increase in Vandermark's proficiency.
But his voice, alone or in tandem with his compatriots, has not yet
developed to the point where it offers up something beyond passion
and energy; something beyond itself. Whether this can, at least in
part, be attributed to Vandermark's ongoing, concerted efforts at
career positioning is, of course, only a matter of conjecture.
But, it's nonetheless worth noting that the tainting of idealism
by humanity's ignoble underpinnings is insidiously subtle, painfully
common, and easily rationalized.