The Vandermark Quartet

Solid Action

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There is something electrifying about going back in time to listen to the early music of Ken Vandermark's original quartet. Along with Michael Zerang (drums), Daniel Scanlan (guitar, violin, cornet), and Kent Kessler (bass), this foursome issued some wildly adventurous and fierce music in the 1990s. This date from 1994 showcases the unit in a set that was almost all composed by Vandermark ("Le Saucisse de Fer" was composed by Zerang). As such, the music here takes on measures of raucous jazz riffing, rock pyrotechnics, and woolly, intense improvisation. Dynamic was not yet a primary aspect of Vandermark's attack and therefore the pieces here, with the exception of the 15-and-a-half-minute suite "Catch 22," concern themselves more with going for the throat and harnessing a nearly unbridled energy than they do with textural meditations. That said, Solid Action is not merely a blowing session. The pieces are wrapped tightly in the aesthetic Vandermark has always pursued, finding the terrain where musics come together just before their seams show. There is the angularity of funk and rock as it meets hard bop in "Tasteless," and there is the vanguard arpeggiated soprano counterpoint invention (in concert first with Zerang and then with Scanlan) in "Bucket," which gives way to a bluesed-out skronk. There is the dubby backbeat of Kessler's bassline in "Leadfoot," which opens onto a melody line that is part film noir soundtrack serial music and part cartoon theme song. And these are just a few examples. What the album does display in spades is that, even at this early juncture, the Vandermark Quartet were interested in pursuing a disciplined approach to both compositional elocution and improvisational articulation. Listening to this music now is breathtaking; it feels shamanic and brave and it engages the listener immediately with the force of both conviction and humor.

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