Review: Ken Vandermark / Paal Nilssen-Love Duo at Café Oto

Nilssen-Love and Vandermark at Café Oto
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2013. All Rights Reserved

Ken Vandermark, Paal Nilssen-Love Duo
(Café Oto, 21 October, 2013; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

When Paal Nilssen-Love and Ken Vandermark take the stage for two uninterrupted sets, you know there's no chance they'll take the easy route. They put themselves on the spot as a duet and as individual performers, asking telling questions about the way their instruments are played; where the boundaries are, sonically, expressively, physically.

Nilssen-Love is the epitome of a timekeeper. He can add a frighteningly precise, metronomic structure to the most wayward of off-road ventures. His industrial, shotgun punches traded places with carefully directed ticks on the centres of cymbals, an expansive use of the large toms which had them sounding like kettle drums, and lightening-fast changes of sticks, mallets and brushes to build up dense atmospheric layers.

Vandermark can be trailing a stonking, punky minimalist stream then nail a classic, fast-moving jazz groove on tenor - his surprisingly unexpected take-off point for set two after an opening set where the roles of the brass, wind and percussion were defined and redefined through a gamut of unconventional strategies.

Vandermark's badly behaved bari refused to stay in the familiar lower registers and play by the rules. Taking on the personas of two saxes - one low down pumping out deep funk reps while up top, a rough melodic seam was sewn; a visceral call and response. His clarinet trilled it's heart out with a raw single-mindedness, sustaining ludicrously out-of-range notes. Back on bari, foghorns, sinewy, gasping runs - air blasted through to liberate strained, strangulated seams.

Late on, the duo slipped from the essence of sharp syncopation to drop in to a vacuum - losing things on the way, no melodies, no beats – an ocean of nervous tremblings and solid sounds. A passage on cymbals, the sharp clacks of blocks, shrill squeaks and ear-piercing runs on clarinet synched with zinging cymbal crashes, before returning to a mean, rolling funk.

Their encore, a lightly executed percussion and clarinet duet drew an elegant, fluttering veil on the evening's richly patterned offerings.

Ken Vandermark: baritone and tenor saxes and clarinet
Paal Nilssen-Love: drums, percussion

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