Ironically, Caffeine is the longest-lived project by reedist Ken Vandermark, and the least documented. It is an uncompromising trio rounded out by two of the most underrated Chicago musicians. Drummer Steve Hunt is mostly known for his work with the NRG Ensemble, and pianist Jim Baker has long been a mainstay of the Chicago scene. Baker produces rather linear lines with an uninterrupted flow of notes, and Hunt often uses percussive devices on his drum kit, creating a bustle. The two seem to have a privileged rapport, and Baker's braininess acts as a foil for Hunt's intuitiveness. Vandermark, still a little green, occasionally seems a little foreign to what they both cook, his playing being juxtaposed to theirs. The reed player gets credit, however, for his quite different approaches on each of the three instruments on this set of improvised music: clarinet, bass clarinet, and tenor sax. It is on bass clarinet that he manages to best blend with his cohorts -- maintaining an energetic flow without sounding forceful. On tenor, Vandermark is at his fiercest and most ferocious. The second part of "Landscape on the Events Horizon," a clarinet feature, provides a rare occasion to hear him in contemplative mode. Overall, the music is extremely dense, despite the fact that the session only involves a trio and the musicians avidly seek to fill all the spaces. Despite its shortcomings, Caffeine manages to sustain the listener's interest due to, in particular, Hunt's and Baker's attention to details.
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AllMusic Review by Alain Drouot