Last night Ken Vandermark ’s Powerhouse Sound gave their second performance, bringing down the house at the Hideout. Usually the leader’s brawny tenor saxophone muscles its way to the top of the mix, but in the company of electric bassist Nate McBride, drummer John Herndon, and guitarist Jeff Parker it had to fight for its place. The group plays a stunning amalgam of electric music—I heard bits of Funkadelic, the early 70s work of Miles Davis, and spacey dub reggae—but it can’t be reduced to a simple composite of those sources.
I’ve heard Parker play in loads of different contexts, where his preternatural mastery of funk and rock is hinted at, but this was the first time I can recall him ever visiting those styles with such purity; the spirit of Eddie Hazel loomed large, but Parker’s gooey, lacerating tone and his unpredictable melodic shapes were all his own. Herndon was a revelation, too. He provided a deep funk, but he consistently varied his rhythms with spontaneous accents and discrete improvised sections that provoked his bandmates without disturbing the music’s surprisingly graceful flow. Too often in such hard-hitting funk projects the bass player finds it necessary to strut his stuff, but McBride was a model of economy--no Jaco noodling here--laying down thick, muscular lines that bypassed the typical slaphappy simplicity of most funk for something more ethereal yet forceful. Instead of seeing how many notes he could cram into each bar, McBride frequently laid out to provide meaningful space. Vandermark, who wrote and arranged the music with both authority and a light touch, pushed as hard as he could, playing nicely angular lines that criss-crossed with the patterns of Parker and McBride, a mix of barwalk honk and free jazz abstraction. For all of the music’s rigor, it was incredibly fun. Here’s hoping that they become a more regular presence.