Saturday, May 19, 2012

Resonance Ensemble: What Country Is This?

Resonance Ensemble
What Country Is This? (Not Two Records; 2012)
Ken Vandermark (sax, clarinet) 
Mikolaj Trzaska (sax, clarinet)
Michael Zerang (drums)
Tim Daisy (drums)
Steve Swell (trombone)
Per -Ake Holmander (tuba)
Dave Rempis (sax)
Magnus Broo (trumpet)
Waclaw Zimpel (clarinet)

One of Ken Vandermark's larger ensembles, Resonance, has always expressed itself with poetic vibrancy. On the groups latest, What Country Is This?, they again explore sound through a series of rising arches and steady calms. And as usual, spanning three long epic pieces that investigate some of the influences of Vandermark.

"Fabric Monument" (dedicated to Polish poet, Czeslaw Milosz) drops down like an anvil with intersecting horn sections opening up in fine Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler fashion while later settling down into a dark sprawling, almost New Orleans funeral celebration. The second piece "Acoustic Fence" illustrates a series of ascending themes with the ensemble in devilish marching mode. Dedicated to the great Polish composer, Witold Lutoslawski, this piece has multiple layers and varying harmonic structures. Broo and Swell lead the group through a series of crackling improvised movements off-set by some terrific work on the drums by Daisy and Zerang.

The final piece is dedicated to the late, Fred Anderson. "Open Window Theory," is a great showcase of how the American and European free form ethos has evolved over the last two decades. Opening brightly and hovering just overhead, Vandermark and company deliver a message that has a chamber ensemble quality to it. The sound is broken into jagged chords and quickly electrified by Trzaska and Zimpel. Rempis, Vandermark and Holmlander each pour a great deal of haunting muted tones across the canvas before the rest of the group rejoin and turn the piece into a funky, Chicago blues style portrait. While Anderson was never a funky player, Resonance show the explosive and exploratory nature that embodied Anderson's music for over four decades.

Vandermark's Resonance Ensemble continues to astound with each record. What Country Is This? is just another brick in the foundation of one his best ensembles outside of the Vandermark 5. Definitely an album of the year on our desk. But isn't every Ken Vandermark record!?!

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