Review: Fire Room (Ken Vandermark/ Paal Nilssen-Love/ Lasse Marhaug)

Paal Nilssen-Love. Vortex November 2011
Drawing by Geoff Winston. All Rights Reserved


Fire Room (Ken Vandermark/ Paal Nilssen-Love/ Lasse Marhaug)
(Vortex, 23 November 2011; night two of 2-day residency; review and drawings by Geoff Winston)


In Fire Room there is a meshing of continents and blurring of genres. European jazz and punk tendencies, Chicago jazz, free jazz, Norwegian noise and death metal. With the amalgam of reeds (Ken Vandermark), drums (Paal Nilssen-Love) and electronics (Lasse Marhaug) it was interesting to see what Marhaug could bring to the more familiar team of Vandermark and Nilssen-Love, who have worked together and toured in various combinations since 2002 - from duets to the Chicago Tentet - always marked by their uncompromising energy and daunting technical proficiency. Nilssen-Love had first performed with fellow Norwegian Marhaug in 2003, and they have since recorded two albums as a duo.

The early percussive onslaught hardly eased off as Nilssen-Love grimaced with concentration to release a succession of pummeling fusillades which even Vandermark, with a slightly underpowered mix, had to work hard with at times to make himself fully audible. Marhaug was always present, either riding alongside the acoustic instruments, intervening with glitches, thrumming and interference or supplying more assertive echoes and gutteral noise. Sounds from the special effects portfolio evoked film animations and sci-fi landscapes, getting uncomfortably close to the literal and highlighting some limitations to the vocabulary.

Nilssen-Love defined the narrative, sticks held low, pedals pounding in a funky chowder of rolls which pushed Vandermark to soulful sax 'in extremis' and circular breathing to maintain the momentum. To a backdrop of electronic trembling and bubbling, he crashed metal as though dustbin lids, then scraped the drumstick on cymbals with the squeals of railway shunting. A rare, sampled repeat tone set the scene for Vandermark's starchy clarinet, skidding over the high register to a spacious background of desert thunder. As he set up honking sax rhythms, Nilssen-Love let rip on the hi-hat and Marhaug wheeled in dense washes to complete the barrage.
Ken Vandermark on clarinet. Vortex November 2011
Drawing by Geoff Winston. All Rights Reserved

There were quieter moments amongst the rambunctious attacks - Marhaug letting a dangling key hit an uncoiled spring, Nilssen-Love tapping a temple bell or scraping a hand-held cymbal on the larger cymbals, and Vandermark holding a single haunting note on clarinet.

The combined drone of clarinet and scratches set the scene for the final full-on assault of booming electronics, raucous sax and clattering, crashing percussion. This is a trio which, to the last, fends off all chances of slipping in to the comfort zone.

Vortex Jazz

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