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Ken Vandermark going to visit Barcelona to play with FME project for in a couple of concerts in Arco y Flecha's 2004 season. Ken Vandermark answered some questions about this group, his present plans and his future projects. Interview by José Francisco Tapiz. Translated and edited by Diego Sánchez Cascado.


The Vandermark 5, AMR, Ginebra, Suiza
©Juan Carlos Hernández, 2004

José Francisco Tapiz - Tomajazz: Can you tell us what are we going to listen in your visit to Spain with FME? (Free Music Ensemble)

Ken Vandermark:
FME will be performing material from our new album, underground (which is coming out on Okka disk at the start of may), as well as some new material which we will work on during the tour in Europe in order to prepare for a recording session this fall in Scandinavia. The music is designed around the idea of how a trio can deal with "time and groove," but in a fluid way (i.e. not tied to a specific meter like 4/4 time, etc.); in addition, the compositions are modular. Each piece as 3 tracks of information (melodic lead, secondary melodic line, and rhythmic material). These elements can be shifted from performance to performance, and the sequence of material is also flexible so each set is created specifically for each concert. Much of the decisions about moving through the forms are improvised.

José Francisco Tapiz - Tomajazz: Please, introduce us the musicians of FME.

Ken Vandermark: The band features Nate McBride on bass, Paal Nilssen-Love on drums and myself. Nate has worked with me most frequently in Spaceways Inc. And Tripleplay. Paal and I have worked together in School Days, our duo together, the octet Atomic/School Days, and in the Territory Band. So there's a lot of history among the three of us. This group has toured in Scandinavia, and this past December in North America. The new album was recorded in Chicago at the end of the that trip.

©Nuno Martins, 2003

José Francisco Tapiz - Tomajazz: In jazz there’s a main concept: the tradition. What means tradition for you? Who are the musicians that are in “your” tradition?

Ken Vandermark: I find it curious that there's so much discussion of "tradition" when it comes to jazz/improvised music. It always seems like there are people who feel the need to protect the music somehow (I’m not suggesting that you're one of these people José!). Why? To me, there are so many music "traditions" that affect the work I’m doing, the preoccupation with what is/isn't jazz, what fits/doesn't fit into the cannon seems like a very narrow view of what is involved when it comes to the music. And this is without even taking into account other art forms!

For me, the "tradition" I subscribe to is the tradition of individual creative thinkers who choose to work together, whether in improvised music or other fields. If we keep the discussion to jazz, I hear and see a direct continuum from Louis Armstrong, to Duke Ellington, to Thelonious Monk, to Charlie Parker, to John Coltrane, to Ornette Coleman, to Albert Ayler, to Don Cherry, to Peter Brötzmann, to Evan Parker, to Derek Bailey, to Mats Gustafsson, to Ab Baars... The line isn't always straight and it includes many, many players, some of whom probably wouldn't consider themselves as "jazz musicians;" but that's the tradition I think of when I think about this music.

José Francisco Tapiz - Tomajazz: You are involved in multiple projects at the same time. How do you manage to make those projects work out?

Ken Vandermark: I find that all the different threads of work that I do affect and inspire each other. Recently I’ve done some new work with the Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet in the Southeast of the United States. Playing with that ensemble is quite different than playing with The Vandermark 5, or FME, etc but the musical thinking that goes on between the players influences each project, the ideas cross pollinate. As long as I remain clear and focused on what each group is "about," it's possible to take these different sets of ideas and apply what's most crucial to make new music work for each band. The biggest challenge is scheduling, and getting all of these musicians in the same room together at the right time!

José Francisco Tapiz - Tomajazz: You have paid tribute to many musicians with your projects. Don Cherry (DKV), FMP / EME (FME), Kirk, Rollins and some of the most important figures of free-jazz as Taylor, AEOC, Bley or Hemphill (The Vandermark 5), Jimmy Giuffre Trio (Free Fall), Sun Ra / Funkadelik (Spaceways Incorporated)... Who will be the next musician?

Ken Vandermark: The most recent investigation into another musician's work has been with the Vandermark 5. We recorded 11 compositions by Roland Kirk arranged for the band to be included as the bonus disk with our new album, Elements Of Style / Exercises In Surprise. It was pretty incredible to perform that material. I'm hoping that that disk and the Rollins material we did for Airports For Light will be released as a double cd this fall, much like the Free Jazz Classics Vol. 1 & 2.

The Vandermark 5
© Sergio Merino, 2003

José Francisco Tapiz - Tomajazz: Atavistic will release soon the new Vandermark Five record. In this recordings I can see some changes and an important evolution in the musical concepts. In which direction this group is moving on?

Ken Vandermark: In some ways I consider the Vandermark 5 to be my "workshop". It's where I try to find out how different ideas I have may or may not work. Luckily we have many chances to play, either at home in Chicago or on the road, so it's possible to develop the ideas more quickly in this ensemble than with many of the other projects I’m working on. In march the V5 were in Krakow, Poland, playing 5 nights of concerts at a club. While we were there I had the time to compose 3 new pieces for the band- we could play them every night and develop them while in Krakow, and then as we moved on further during the tour. It's been a very unique opportunity to work with Jeb Bishop, Tim Daisy, Dave Rempis, and Kent Kessler for so many years. The players "know" much of what I am trying to get at with the new pieces without my having to explain each detail. This speeds up the process of getting "off the page" and into the music.

Right now I am trying to find a way to move the idea of pulse outside of the brackets and patterns normally associated with "jazz," in order to still groove hard but with more open parameters. I'm also trying to move past examining certain stylistic concerns and perform music that's more "my own", that integrates all the kinds styles that I’m interested in organically. Hopefully this will lead to some new hybrids of what can be done with a band playing improvised music today.

Clean Feed has just released a new Tripleplay record called Gambit. I know the term “Gambit” in chess. To whom are you trying to take advantage? What sacrifice are you doing for this? What’s the meaning of the title of this record?

Ken Vandermark: Originally i liked the word itself. The more that i considered it in relation to the album, the process of making the recording, and the process of playing this music it seemed like an ideal name for what we're doing. It's a risk to try to create something meaningful on the spot, each night. It's a risk to be away from home on tour, sacrificing time with people who are close and important to you. It's a risk to play music that doesn't fit into narrow stylistic parameters that are used to catagorize music. The players i work with take these chances all the time in an attempt to discover what's possible- the sacrificial action is sometimes necessary to move forward.

Some years ago you received the McArthur Genius Grant. How many records have you released with the money of this prestigious prize?

Ken Vandermark: Most of the funds have gone towards the large group projects: putting the peter brotzmann chicago tentet on the road in north america in 2000 and 2002, plus recording the band at the end of those tours; also organizing and recording the territory band projects. In smaller ways, i've used the funds to help pay for motel rooms and other expenses while bands are touring. The economic leeway the prize has given me has mostly allowed me to take chances on projects that i would have otherwise thought impossible. What i've learned is that almost anything is possible, it's just necessary to plan correctly and to learn from each situation.

Tomajazz © José Francisco Tapiz, 2004