TERRITORY BAND 2
One of the first projects Ken Vandermark funded with his generous MacArthur grant was his first bona fide large group, the Territory Band. The core of the outfit, assembled last winter, was a cluster of some of his most frequent local collaborators--pianist Jim Baker, drummer Tim Mulvenna, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, bassist Kent Kessler, trombonist Jeb Bishop, and saxophonist Dave Rempis--which he augmented with two superb European musicians, drummer Paul Lytton and trumpeter Axel Dörner. The group's sole concert, a February performance at the Empty Bottle, was astonishing, and the excellent Transatlantic Bridge (Okka Disk), recorded right afterward, likewise captures facets of Vandermark's talent he'd never previously displayed: his arranging and his long-form writing. The album's four extended works are packed with organically shifting episodes--no cheap pastiche here--that consistently reveal the composer's improvisational mind-set. As sumptuous as his resourceful horn voicings get, as hard as some of the charts swing, and as catchy as a few of the riffs are, Vandermark treats them as launchpads for spontaneity. In hooky contrapuntal horn patterns, terse pointillistic blasts, lengthy spells of silence, and shifting combinations of solo voices, he blurs the line between improv and composition with a conviction and skill level his previous projects only hinted at. And his coconspirators are up to the task: Bishop's muscular sound has rarely seemed so ebullient, Dörner's striated blubbering reaches a new peak of painterly introspection, and the polyrhythmic and nonrhythmic interactions between Mulvenna and Lytton are equally riveting. For the group's upcoming concert, Vandermark has written all new music and added three more singular players to the lineup: brilliant local guitarist and sound manipulator Kevin Drumm, Swedish saxophonist Fredrik Ljungkvist, and Swedish tubaist Per-Ake Holmlander. As usual when the foreigners hit town, there are lots of satellite gigs: On Friday and Saturday members of the big band will perform in various quartet configurations at the Velvet Lounge; on Friday evening Drumm, Dörner, Vandermark, and Lytton will accompany films and videos as part of Vandermark's ongoing Chicago Eye and Ear Control project at Columbia College; and on Wednesday night at the Empty Bottle Dörner will reprise a wonderful ad hoc quartet gig he played at Lula Cafe last year with guitarist Jeff Parker, bassist Josh Abrams, and reedist Guillermo Gregorio. See listings for show times and other information on these performances; the main event is Wednesday, February 14, at 7 PM in the Claudia Cassidy Theater, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington; 312-744-6169.