Lean Left The Ex Guitars meet Nilssen-Love / Vandermark Duo - Volume 1 Review

Album. Released 2010.  

BBC Review

Acclaimed reedman Vandermark collaborates with free-improv duo Ex Guitars.

Bill Tilland 2010

Reedman Ken Vandermark has amassed a formidable body of recorded work, not only with the celebrated Vandermark Five (which has remained a touchstone throughout his career), but also with the Territory Band, his occasional larger ensemble. Not one to rest on his laurels, he also likes to challenge himself in live performance, using various instrumental combinations and musicians who are not members of his regular working groups. Here, Vandermark and long-time drummer associate Paal Nilssen-Love are joined by Dutch free improv duo the Ex Guitars (Andy Moor and Terrie Ex, of punk group The Ex and recent collaborators with sometime Vandermark associate Mats Gustafsson).

Vandermark and Nilssen-Love open the program with Left Lung, a visceral tenor sax workout. Vandermark examines short musical phrases from every possible angle, simultaneously echoing John Coltrane’s ecstatic search for transcendence and Sonny Rollins’ more clipped and playful improvisational style. This segues into the next piece, Lean Over, an impassioned Albert Ayler-ish repetition of a short chord progression. Here, the two guitarists begin to nip at the edges of the frame with strange little squeaks and squeals before jumping in at about the halfway mark as equal partners. Nillson-Love’s drumming on both these tracks is a revelation – he combines the energy and clarity of a rock drummer with the polyrhythmic complexity of a good jazz player. He’s the perfect foil for Vandermark, where his melodicism – along with Vandermark’s subtle modifications of his horn’s tone and timbre – balances trance-like repetition with engaging complexity.        

The centrepiece of the program, the 27-plus-minute Right Lung, is clearly unrehearsed and totally improvised. It opens is a desultory manner, with the Ex Guitars meandering to no particular effect, but Vandermark and Nillson-Love eventually seize control and the guitars join in for a few minutes of solid group improvisation. Vandermark then rips off a typically brawny solo while the guitars fall back into supporting roles. This pattern is repeated several times, and although the guitars occasionally display some intensity, their role is primarily rhythmic.

Vandermark and Nillson-Love in combination are always a treat, and the Ex Guitars complement them with some nice textures, tonal colouring and percussive muscle. A second volume of this live concert is scheduled for future release; it will likely reveal other dimensions of the improvisational dynamic generated by the four participants.

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