Ken Vandermark in the Belly of the Beast | Bleader

Ken Vandermark in the Belly of the Beast


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Ken Vandermark
  • Hannes Reisinger
  • Ken Vandermark
Earlier this year I interviewed Ken Vandermark for a feature that ran in Down Beat magazine. One of the things he discussed but that didn’t make it into that article was his apparent invisibility to the U.S. jazz establishment. There’s no question he has a rabid following in the States, but in New York City, jazz headquarters of the world, he’s at best a fringe presence.

“In North America the only thing that’s happened with festivals have been in Canada—Vancouver, Victoriaville,” he told me. “I’m invisible in the mainstream jazz world in the U.S. I’m generally never covered in mainstream American publications devoted to jazz.” While Vandermark has worked with American musicians who don’t live in Chicago—Joe McPhee, Joe Morris, and Adam Lane among them—they exist in the same sort of odd parallel world that he does, away from New York and criminally relegated to the margins. Of course, Vandermark has done just fine without the imprimatur of the establishment.

But maybe things are changing a bit. The Vandermark 5 just played at George Wein’s CareFusion Jazz Festival 55 in Newport, Rhode Island, an event that also featured household names like Dave Brubeck and Branford Marsalis. And today I noticed on Vandermark’s Web site that his next two gigs are not only in New York but that he’s playing with some of the city’s most acclaimed and extraordinary musicians: bassist Eric Revis, whose main gig is playing with Branford, pianist Jason Moran, one of the past decade’s most original voices on the instrument and a cornerstone of the Blue Note Records roster, and drummer Nasheet Waits, a first-call skinsman who works regularly with Moran, Dave Douglas, Fred Hersch, and Orrin Evans, among many others (including Vandermark cohort Peter Brötzmann).

Granted, these guys don't enjoy the same level of recognition as, say, the Marsalises, and they're not exactly mainstream artists in style either. Though they can play straight-ahead like nobody’s business if they choose, they like to take chances—Revis and Waits toured with Brötzmann this past spring, and last year Moran played with guitarist Mary Halvorson. But there’s no doubt that they usually dwell in a different universe than Vandermark does. Maybe these partnerships mean he's finally due to get some of the respect he deserves in New York City.

Today’s playlist:

Marcus Strickland, Of Song (Criss Cross)
Cortijo y Su Combo con Ismael Rivera, La Quiniela del Dia (Tico/Fania)
William Parker, The Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield—Live in Rome (Rai Trade)
Mohamed Ilyas With Nyota Zameremeta Orchestra of Zanzibar, Taarab (Chiku-Taku)
Sugar Pie DeSanto, Go Go Power: The Complete Chess Singles 1961-1966 (Kent)

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