Utility Hitter Review

Ken Vandermark/Barrage Double Trio
Utility Hitter

from Cadence Vol. 22 No. 11, November 1996, pg. 98
written by Dale Smoak

The Barrage Double Trio has links to both the NRG Ensemble, for
whom Vandermark, Kessler and Williams play, and Ornette Coleman's
Free Jazz. The "Chicago" and "Boston" trios are separated
by the stereo mix, as were the two quartets on the Coleman project.
On "Over and Both" and "Polarity" the Double Trio uses the two
basses effectively: on "Polarity," for instance, during Vandermark's
clarinet stint, Kent Kessler plays in the high range with Nate
McBride on the bottom, in an unavoidable evocation of the Scott
LaFaro/Charlie Haden roles - which Kessler and McBride retain even
when they switch off during William's tenor outing. In general,
the Double Trio grounds itself in freewheeling, tempo-based post-bop,
although they veer off on plenty of side trips.

On "Agamemnon Sleeps," the main theme does not appear until the 11:00
mark. It's a labyrinthine head played by Williams on alto, Vandermark
on tenor, and the group as a whole, and it's followed by a terrific
alto solo by Williams, with some tremendously responsive accenting
from drummer Curt Newton; drummer Hamid Drake maintains the tempo,
and the two bassists range about. Vandermark takes a turn before the
group closes the piece. These last five minutes are a quick-witted
blowout, set up by an opening bowed bass duo, and several minutes of
bass and drum colors over a slow tempo, with this early portion capped
by a quick-moving, vocalized soprano solo by Williams.

This disc is full of outstanding playing, but I find my ear drawn
repeatedly to Williams. On "There Is No Reason," he plays a character-
istically vocal, ecstatic solo, yet manages somehow to ground himself
in the vamps that underpin the piece. On the Albert Ayler dedication,
"East River Suite," Williams leads off with a screaming tenor solo
that's both homage and personal statement. Vandermark and the group
also turn in fine work, especially in terms of how they build intensity
in wave-like peaks.

The odd-numbered pieces are short free improvisations, and serve as
programming relief for the Vandermark compositions. I particularly
like "Boston Trio" for Vandermark's (uncredited) soprano saxophone solo,
and the "Bass Duo," which has Kessler playing bowed and with pitch as
McBride improvises pizzicato. But there's plenty to like here. These
musicians are clearly aware of Jazz and free-jazz traditions, yet the
freshness and personality they bring to their music keeps them from
falling into revivalist ruts. This disc should be a near-lock for my
own Best of the Year list.

from Down Beat 6/1/97, pg. 54
written by Aaron Cohen

Ken Vandermark is tireless. On any given night he could be
leading his own free-wheeling ensembles, jamming with visiting
European heavyweights or barnstorming with the snappy-as-pressed-
trousers Crown Royals r&b revue. Vandermark's two recent discs
illustrate how he continues to coalesce his manifold experiences
into a distinctive multi-reed voice.

Each track on the Vandermark 5's Single Piece Flow contains a
written tribute to a source of inspiration, and "Careen"'s
dedication to the comic kung-fu movie star Jackie Chan is the
most pertinent. Like a good Hong Kong film plot, Vandermark's
themes are often based around endearing riffs that are never
merely cute and provide a lively framework for each performer's
agility. Vandermark has become an adroit clarinetist, playing
beautifully alongside Tim Mulvena's sparse drumming on the
unusually dark "Fence." Bassist Kent Kessler and saxophonist
Mars Williams are part of Vandermark's regular circle, and their
level of communication has become notably refined; Kessler is
adept at honing spacious notes, and Williams (who navigates
through free-jazz and r&b realms of his own in the NRG Ensemble
and Liquid Soul) sounds perfectly comfortable wailing alongside
Vandermark above the tight changes. Jeb Bishop, a relative
newcomer to the coterie, contributes apt disjointed trombone
solos along with an incisive guitar technique. While the
quintet's sudden shifts in tone from an unconstrained circus to
subdued exploration could have easily become contrived, the
Vandermark 5 handle these turns with evident integrity.

Williams, Kessler and three other sympathetic musicians join
Vandermark on the Barrage Double Trio Utility Hitter disc, which
draws on Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz double-group assembly as a
blueprint. Divided into the "Chicago Trio" and "Boston Trio,"
percussionist Hamid Drake and Kessler propel Williams in the
left channel while Vandermark plays in the other speaker with
bassist Nat McBride and drummer Curt Newton (who are also the
core of guitarist Joe Morris' excellent Symbolic Gesture trio
CD). The tracks alternate between Vandermark's diverse
compositions -- which range from linear tunes with shuffle beats
to extended suites -- and shorter bursts of collective free
improvisation. It takes considerable nerve to emulate a legendary
configuration, and Barrage Double Trio demonstrates that the
experiment should be tried more often. Kessler and McBride
provide inspired counterpoint on their own and the combined
rhythm sections provide rock-solid foundations to Vandermark and
Williams' overtones. While the group's intensity wavers in a few
spots, these moments are worthwhile risks that are inherent in
such an adventurous package.

from Pulse, September 1996, pg. 73
written by Art Lange

Vandermark's six-man Barrage recalls the glory days of ESP Records
The band lives up to its name, with drummers Hamid Drake and Curt
Newton provoking squalls of rhythmic turbulence and bassists Kent
Kessler and Nate McBride providing the harmonic buoyancy to keep
everyone afloat. Williams and Vandermark respond with Dolphyesque
fervor, saxophones stinging the air with passionate abandon. Barrage
is happy to rollick and roar. (3 1/2 stars)