Ken Vandermark and Nate Wooley Improvise for the Moment
We are finally caring for our ears. I don’t mean merely heeding the dictum that one ought not insert anything into their auditory canal deeper than their pinky can venture. I don’t even mean the heartening statistics suggesting that hearing loss is on the decline. No. That we are caring for our ears is indicated by the fact that, in 2016, vinyl record sales hit a 25-year high.
Digitalization is to be thanked for democratizing music, leading us to new discoveries and making them more accessible than ever; but savvy ears know that a digital file is to a lustrous LP what a poster reproduction is to the chunky, textured brush strokes of a Vincent Van Gogh canvas. And this difference cannot be written off as “nostalgia” or “hipster fetishism”—as recent monographs such as Damon Krukowski’s The New Analog: Listening and Reconnecting in a Digital World and David Sax’s The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter convincingly argue.
Just as gourmands seek out daring pairings of flavors, so do audiophiles delight in new sonic combinations. On Friday, June 23 at 8 p.m. at the Sugar Maple in Bay View, the Ken Vandermark and Nate Wooley Duo will serve forth a menu of music that blends improvisation with composition and explores the expressive palette of their instruments through the use of extended techniques. The concert will begin with each musician stepping forward separately to play a solo set. Vandermark waxes rhapsodic about his musical compatriot’s commitment to an improvisational ideal.
“Every single night, Nate approaches his part of the solo set with a totally clean slate,” he says. “It’s incredible. His improvisation may be designed for the acoustics of the room or to reflect his momentary frame of mind or the atmosphere of the audience. That’s what improvisation is supposed to be about. He takes that attitude very seriously. What happens at the Sugar Maple won’t be what happened the night before in Madison or the night after when we’re recording in the studio. He’s a very special improviser.”
The duo set presents material that Vandermark and Wooley developed and honed over the course of a tour in May. The material bounces back and forth between conventionally melodic material and abstract, sonic textures. Vandermark sees this inclusivity as an inevitable consequence of musical and environmental influences. “It’s really more natural to incorporate sounds at this point,” he remarks. “Just in terms of the music that we listen to and the urban environments in which we live.”
While conceding that the sections of free improvisation can be jarring at first to the uninitiated, Vandermark insists that, ultimately, texturally oriented sound constitutes another way of thinking about melody. He elaborates with an analogy: “Whether it has been built with brick or wood, it’s still a house. If you look at a wooden house from the standpoint of brick, it will look strange. But if you evaluate the house in the terms of construction, you begin to appreciate the virtues of each approach.”
The return of the Ken Vandermark and Nate Wooley Duo to the Sugar Maple is an auspicious occasion. Their first two records, the critically acclaimed East by Northwest and All Directions Home, were waxed at the Bay View beer bar; their Sugar Maple gig will be recorded for possible inclusion on the duo’s third album—to be formally recorded the night after and released as an LP later this year.
The Ken Vandermark and Nate Wooley Duo perform at the Sugar Maple on Friday, June 23 at 8 p.m.