Review: Double Tandem at the Vortex (LJF)

Double Tandem, Vortex, 15th November
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2012. All Rights Reserved.

Double Tandem
(Vortex, 15 November 2012; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)


Double Tandem comprises a trio of the most respected, inspired and technically accomplished improvisers out of Chicago, Norway and the Netherlands respectively. Ken Vandermark and Paal Nilssen-Love, who had just completed an intense two-day stint with the Brötzmann Chicago Tentet at Café Oto were joined by frequent comrade-in-arms, notably as a guest of Lean Left last year, Ab Baars.

The meaning of the name Double Tandem remains - to me at least - obscure, possibly implying a quartet rather than a three-piece. Notwithstanding, this turned out to be two sets of fast-changing combinations of their chosen instruments - two clarinets, two tenor saxes, Vandermark's baritone sax, Baars's hefty Japanese bamboo flute, the shakuhachi and Nilssen-Love's percussion. Brightly accented textures and timbres were built up and broken down, the unexpected was tirelessly pursued.

The silence of a typically respectful and listening Vortex audience was riven by Vandermark's opening volley, honking unrestrainedly on his bari, bringing to mind a massive American Peterbilt 281 truck barrelling down the freeway, Duel-style, answered by whacks on the drumkit while Baars wailed on clarinet with the anguished tones of Bechet. The interplay between Baars and Vandermark on twin clarinets got close to reinventing the flavour of the liquorice stick. Baars's impeccable, delicate technique morphed in to a squawking, searing cry, and when they opened the second set in tandem with a shrill, piercing duet the physical vibrations were palpable! Equally compelling was the sequence when Vandermark's bari took to the higher ranges and Baars plumbed the deep registers on his tenor, this tandem offering a case of mistaken identity.

Throughout, Nilssen-Love moved between background and foreground, leading the pack with touches of melodic and atmospheric articulation added to the rhythmic imperative. His rounded, metallic gong timbres linked to the far eastern flavour that Baars evoked on shakuhachi then dropped back to offer a classic small group jazz swing beat just when the reeds needed it. Again, as if to confound expectations, after his hands had lightly padded all over the cymbals, Nilssen-Love applied the brushes sharply, viciously in combination with the bass pedals to heighten the punctuation, brows furrowed in acute concentration.

The honking truck returned and Vandermark swerved into minimalist loops and a discernible solid soul pumping beat to take up responsibility for the backdrop to the formidably inquisitive seam of invention which is the hallmark of Double Tandem.

With respect to the great Ahmad Jamal, these trio excursions, in the intimate confines of the Vortex, could be seen as one of the many successors to his concept of Chamber Music of the New Jazz - as with his 50s trio adventure, there was everything to listen to and to hold the attention, albeit with a significantly modified argot.

As an afternote, Oliver Weindling announced the great news that Baars will be back in January/February next year for a 5-day residency at the Vortex playing in the unmissable Instant Composers Pool Orchestra, on an all-too-rare visit to these shores.

Ab Baars: clarinet, tenor sax, shakuhachi
Paal Nilssen-Love: drums/percussion
Ken Vandermark: clarinet, baritone and tenor saxes

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