Ken Vandermark | Mark In The Water | Not Two Records

Not Two, 2011 | MW 879-2 | CD

Ken Vandermark – bass clarinet, tenor sax, Bb clarinet

Recorded live @ Alchemia, Kraków on November 29th, 2010 by  Rafat Drewniany (dts studio). Mixing and mastering by Rafal Drewniany (dts studio). Producer: Ken Vandermark. Executive Producer: Marek Winiarski. Design: Marek Wajda

Tracklist: 1. Lead Bird (for Peter Brotzmann), bass clarinet 2. Dekooning (portrait of Coleman Hawkins), tenor sax 3. Steam Giraffe (portrait of Evan Parker), tenor sax 4. Personal Tide (portrait of Anthony Braxton), bass clarinet 5. White Lemon (for Jimmy Giuffre), Bb clarinet 6. The Pride Of Time (for Fred McDowell), bass clarinet 7. Burning Air (for John Carter), Bb clarinet 8. Future Perfect (for Eric Dolphy), bass clarinet 9. Soul In The Sound (for Steve Lacy), tenor sax 10. Looking Back (for Joe McPhee), tenor sax

All music composed by Ken Vandermark (Twenty First Mobile Music/ASCAP)


James Cagney (on the process of acting)

Looking In The Mirror

I’d already been considering the idea of recording a second album of solo music when Marek Winiarski of Not Two Records approached me, suggesting that he’d like to release such a document. Though inspired ; by Peter Brötzmann’s approach to chronicling solo work, building a “sonic autobiography” with “chapters” recorded every five years or so, I was already threeyears behind schedule- Okka Diskhad issued my first solo album, “Furniture Music,” in 2003. Marek’s proposal was the push I needed to complete the task.

When I made the first solo album I had used templates or loose descriptive frameworks to develop each improvisation. Nothing was pre-composed in the conventional sense but this system gave me a specific set of parameters to work with, that were flexible enough to adapt to a specific performance and environment. At that point in the process I needed such guides. After trying a variety of strategies to solo performance these gave me the most successful balance between freedom and constraint, they allowed me to create music that wasn’t reliant on other participants, with a system that wasn’t only an imitation of ideas that had been presented better before; by reed innovators like Braxton, Brötzmann, Carter, Dolphy, Giuffre, Hawkins, Lacy, McPhee, and Parker.

For a few years after “Furniture Music” was released, I continued to use this kind of material for solo concerts. Then something changed; at a certain point the template methodology no longer excited me. It seemed that once I understood how the system worked I needed to find a new approach to solo playing, one that I couldn’t fully grasp. It was necessary to reestablish the edge of improvisational risk for each performance and, primarily motivated by the solo recordings of English trombonist, Paul Rutherford, I decided to try and abandon the frameworks altogether. I began playing “open pieces” that allowed me to discover what was in the room, in the sound that night, to find where it would lead me. The musical hazards in playing this way are real- an improviser is completely exposed, the line between success and failure is obvious to an audience watching and listening. But somehow, after hearing artists like Peter and Joe McPhee perform their solo music for more than a decade, I realized that taking this chance was actually the point. In the hands of artists like these, improvisation is a direct expression of experience, it’s a specific impression of a time and place, a way of getting to facts about living with veracity. For me it became necessary to try, as James Cagney said about acting, to “plant yourself squarely on both feet and tell the truth.”

The ten pieces included on “Mark In The Water” were selected from a concerthjeld at Alchemia, in Krakow, on November 29,2010. The venue, the people who owned it and who worked there, the audiences who came to the club to listen, had all become a significant part of my creative life during the second half of the 2000’s.

I had been asked to play two sets of music that evening- something I’d never done before as a solo performer. The dread over the possibility of becoming stuck and repeating myself during the course of the performance, as well as the fear of starting the concert only to find out that I had nothing to say that night, were real.

The circumstances were extremely intimidating. Despite my conviction that I should now approach solo concerts without a plan, up to the final minutes before going onstage I was still not sure I’d find a way to create a successful concert. Then by chance, Jarek Gawlinski, a young staff member working at Alchemia, played the album, “The Hawk Flies High.” It’s a classic for me, one that’s a significant part of my upbringing and listening background. Hearing Coleman Hawkins ‘tone fill the club made me consider his solo work, the pieces “Picasso” and “Dali.”  Suddenly, I had the idea of making “portraits” of the reed players who had most inspired me- Anthony Braxton,  Peter Brotzmann, John Carter, Eric Dolphy, Jimmy Ciuffre, Coleman Hawkins, Steve Lacy, Joe McPhee, and Evan Parker; as well as the guitarist, Fred McDowell, who has made some of the most perfect solo music I’ve ever heard; not to imitate them, but to launch an improvisational profile by using a loose interpretation of their creative aesthetics. I would then combine these pieces with those that were completely open. Within a few moments, thanks to Leszek and Coleman Hawkins, I knew I had found a way to approach both sets.

By the end of the night twenty pieces were recorded, and everyone present seemed to be as exhausted and elated as I was. Though a few notated compositions were played (“Sweet Dragon” by Joe McPhee closed the first set, “Love Cry” by Albert Ayler was the first encore of the second set, “Goodbye Tom B.” by Joe was the third encore and final performance of the evening), none of these performances were used for the album; they can be found on Marek Winiarski’s Not Two compilation, “Krakow Jazz Fall 2011.” Of the remaining material- nine portraits and eight  open improvisations- I felt that only three of the “portraits” were strong enough to release, and that seven of the nine open pieces were worth including on “Mark In The Water.” Ironically, the conceptual strategy that helped me with the gig also proved to be the least viable from a musical standpoint. The mirror of this material has made it dear to me- it’s time to take the creative leap that Rutherford, Brötzmann, and McPhee encouraged; to erase the slate, walk on stage without a plan, and try to “tell the truth,” whatever that might be. – – Ken Vandermark.

trip by van with the Ex & Brass Unbound, between Brussels and Bern, then Geneva and Lyon, August 30-31,2011.

James Cagney quote from, Warren, Doug; Cagney, James (1986) (1983).  Cagney. The Authorized Biography (Mass Market ed.). New York: St. Martin’s Press; pg. 203.



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