Vandermark 5 and Atomic at Vortex, 16 September. Review, and drawing of Atomic, by Geoffrey Winston(*).
Vandermark 5: Ken Vandermark (tenor sax/Bb clarinet), Tim Daisy (drums), Kent Kessler (bass), Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello/electronics), Dave Rempis (alto/tenor sax)
Atomic: Magnus Broo (trumpet), Ingebrigt Haker Fleten (bass), Fredrik Ljungkvist (reeds), Paal Nilssen-Love (drums), Havard Wiik (piano)
'Awesome' is an overused word these days, but in the case of this performance by Vandermark 5, it is justified. There was a palpable sense of anticipation at the tiny Vortex ahead of this exceptional double-header, and the evening's serious intent was evident with the array of music stands, scores and BBC recording mikes onstage. These two bands, bridging the Atlantic divide from the US to Scandinavian Europe, have a history of cross-fertilisation and collaboration, and it was with characteristic humility that Ken Vandermark put his quintet on first to allow Atomic the headline set.
He distributed tumblers of water to his musicians before they launched in to Friction, with its drum snap and hovering cello sharpening the senses for an extraordinarily fresh, fluent and muscular set. As the pace picked up the focus shifted from the rhythm section to the twin reeds blowing up such a storm that it could have been Roland Kirk in full flight. Vandermark's extended tenor solo was torrential in its intensity, and was matched by Rempis's equally dextrous and vigorous alto. Their duetting flowed with phenomenal confidence as Rempis switched to tenor and Vandermark to clarinet in Fables of Facts, a timely nod, surely, to Mingus's key political title, Fables of Faubus, and whose uncompromising orchestrations of the early 60s were always in the air.
Location, dedicated to painter Philip Guston, saw Vandermark's clarinet in dynamic tension with the dual plucked strings and delicate percussion before building to an explosive crescendo. Intermittently pulsating riffing was given full rein in the last number, Leap Revisited, with Lonberg-Holm's demonic brew of heavy cello and electronic distortion - more Jimmy Page than Hank Roberts. Daisy was loose, energetic, and creative throughout, and Kessler's bowed bass brought a resonant acoustic aspect to the set. Vandermark is an advocate of the power of the live experience, and this mesmerising set was testimony to his conviction, the music so much alive, never predictable and sewn together by remarkable musicianship and interplay.
On this form, they were a hard act to follow, and it took Atomic a while before they were truly in their stride. They came out all guns blazing with a blistering trumpet barrage from Broo, elegantly countered with a peaceful discordance. Nilssen-Love, initially restrained, got into his natural polyrhythmic flow, and propelled the ensemble with a light touch. Ljungkvist's wide spectrum of colour, painted on tenor, baritone and clarinet was an effective foil to Broo's intensity and Wiik's rich, flowing piano arpeggios.
Atomic chip away at the Scandinavian style, yet also derive a certain formality from their native genre - making for a truly rounded evening, which, as Jez Nelson announced, was recorded for two imminent broadcasts on Jazz on 3, and should not be missed.
Image copyright Geoffrey Winston 2010 . All Rights Reserved.