by Kevin Crowe
They're reading each other's minds. When Ken Vandermark is onstage, his reedwork is supreme, cooing through some of the bluest arrangements on the clarinet and, often turning on a dime, huffing out heavy-duty skronk on his sax, enough to make even the most hardened noisemonger weep. And in the background, keeping it together with a bedrock percussion backbone, Tim Daisy goes primal. His rhythmic headtrips always feel like stream-of-consciousness, flirting with chaos, but never spiraling out of control. And the horns spike on top of it, sometimes with a velvety timbre, right before they emancipate the dissonance.
Vandermark's bag of tricks is never depleted, as he plays some of the angriest jazz, coupled with the smoky, laid-back numbers that mesmerize listeners, taking them towards lala land, right before another sonic onslaught begins. These seismic kickflips, constantly bending the audience's expectations, can be meditative and they can swing lackadaisically, but the sound's usually heading toward discordant crescendo. But it's deceptively cohesive, because there's always a plan, programmed into the music's DNA.
â“I feel that I'm listening better,â” Daisy says. â“I'm listening better to other musicians that I'm playing with. A few years ago I might have tried something because it was technically challenging. Now I'm thinking about how it relates musically with the entire ensemble that I'm playing with.â”
Daisy came into Chicago's vibrant avant-jazz scene in 1997, when he began to work with the 58 Group, a dance ensemble that, according to Daisy, allowed him to begin exploring the relationship between movement and sound.
â“They really helped me,â” he explains, â“I always had the tendency to close my eyes. But I had to watch the dancers. We were working off cues, from the conductor and the dancers.
â“It's an extremely natural relationship. That goes back to the beginning of time. It's drumming and dancing that goes together, it's not separated.â”
At about the same time, after meeting up with a Chicago vet, saxman Dave Rempis, Daisy's drumming began to find a voice all its own. One part primeval, capable of providing a haunting rhythmic pulse, and one part pure technical thrash, the stuff that nightmares are made of. It's refreshingly free jazz, blasting through the history of jazz, pulling at any strand of music that gets in the way.
â“Everybody has their own unique approach. He's a very organic musician,â” Daisy says of his collaborations with Rempis. â“We've developed such a strong relationship that we can guide each other's music, to guide and shape it.â”
That's what's happening in Chicago, the bending and shaping, while a close-knit band of freaky jazzmen play alchemist with sound. Maybe it's more closely related to the Fluxus art movement, the idea that, if you strongarm enough disparate artistic strains, then something totally new emerges, without abandoning past conventions. Traditional jazz breaks down, ever so eloquently, where these explorers of sound are always sure to stand on the shoulders of giants.
â“It's wonderful,â” he says. â“Chicago gives you an opportunity to have a little more space, to be able to work with musicians for a little more. To be able to explore different types of music.â”
The final product can be inaccessible, bulwarked behind a meaningless pastiche of sound and jetsam beats. But at times, like on the Vandermark 5's â“Aperture,â” you'll hear a melodic progression, not too far out for the greenhorn noisenik. Then there's â“Vent,â” a piece of aural clutter that's inflected with the erratic pathos of noise rock.
â“Music's communication,â” Daisy goes on. â“Whatever outlet you can find will shape your musicâ. Playing extremely intense music, it's being able to think about the overall shape of the music. What's the motive behind it? Is it how you're really expressing yourself?
â“The thing that ties it together is being able to listen to what the other musicians are doing. It's great that you're playing with feeling, but you got to be listening and responding. It's a conversation you're having. You don't want to just be talking loudly all the time.â”
Sometimes, it's a little more complicated, because it's all about mindreading and anticipating the next move. â“This is going to be interesting,â” he says of the upcoming show at the Pilot Light. â“I'm going to be bringing two different drum setsâ. And a bunch of old, off-brand cymbalsâ. New ways of dealing with sound, basically.â”
WHO: Tim Daisy and Ken Vandermark WHEN: Friday, June 29, 10 p.m. WHERE: Pilot Light
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