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Ken Vandermark's "Momentum 3" @ Sugar Maple

Aug. 21, 2016

Aug. 22, 2016
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It was like a battle of the bands Ken Vandermark couldn't have been anticipating.

But with what sounded to be a salsa band playing at the bar next door loud enough to be more than dimly heard through the walls of Sugar Maple, the Chicago jazz reeds player and the rest of his assembled players undauntedly went about the third in Vandermark's  Momentum concert series at the bar specializing in craft beers.

Though he admitted that the less than optimal circumstances were in line with composer John Cage's aesthetic of using found sounds, the muffled infiltration of romantically danceable tropical sounds proved to be no hindrance to Vandermark and company's programmatic experimentations.

Of course, the leader of the quintet may question the suggestion that the contents of Momentum 3 were program music. Its music, however, was at least inspired by Vandermark's viewing earlier this year of an exhibition of work by the Monster Roster, the school of Windy City visual artists whose existentialist offerings were responses to the horrors of World War 2. Drummer Tim Barnes, Nick Macri on stand-up acoustic bass, Mars Williams’ employment of saxophones and toys, and Lou Mallozzi commandeering of turntables and mixers abetted Vandermark to make a stirring aural statement.

In his essay explaining the evening's fare, with a stapled copy at every seat of the host bar, Vandermark examined instances when a musical piece, such as Igor Stravinsky's accompaniment for Serge Diaghilev's Rites of Spring ballet and Ennio Morricone's score of Sergio Leone's Western movie The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, became more than mere accompaniment for the other artwork for which it was written. Vandermark's suggestion that the heightened national profiles of Ted Cruz and Donald Trump represents a domestic declination toward fascism commensurate to Hitler's and Mussolini's rise may be hyperbolic, but the quintet's challenging music for a challenging present made for compelling cacophony.

With what appeared to be sheet music, or at least some kind of notation, on stands before some of the players during the longer composition that comprised the first of two sets, it wasn't simply cacophonous. Organization prevailed some. Early on, Williams and Vandermark were even harmonizing with their saxes. As piece went on in somewhat suite-like fashion of decimation and semi-restructuring the opening incipience of melody, Barnes' percussion became intermittently more fevered, as he would on occasion place objects on his tom and snare and switch between brushes and sticks. Mallozzi manipulated his apparatus, playing at various tempos mostly spoken word vinyl of various types, with an alchemist's steely calm. Macri, vied for most stoic member of the troupe, giving steady thumps on his axe's strings when he wasn't bouncing and sawing his bow across them, often in the vicinity of the instrument's bridge.

Momentum 3's second half comprised a series of shorter duet and trio combinations among the five players. In one of his few moments of levity, Vandermark confessed that he front-loaded those shorter works with his involvement, so he could enjoy some of the venue's signature beverage as his band mates played without him. His and Barnes' opening salvo may have been the most discordant among the pieces. The drummer ending the last tune by tapping on and blowing through the hole in the middle of a face-obscuring, cracked cymbal nigh doubtless qualifies for a "not likely to occur at any other concert you see this year" citation. The same could also be said of Mallozzi's and Williams' practically dueling on high-pitched toy wind instruments.

Concluding at a relatively early 8:45, Vandermark expressed gratitude for a Sugar Maple filled with so many patrons of his sonic explorations. Might the salsa lovers a couple of walls away have had any idea of what went on? 

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