Spaceways came together in '99 as a band specifically constructed to perform a concert of George Clinton and Sun Ra compositions for the third anniversary of the Empty Bottle Jazz Series in Chicago. Originally planned as a duo concert, multireedist Ken Vandermark and drummer Hamid Drake brought in a surprise guest, electric/acoustic bassist Nate McBride, not only for the concert but also for the subsequent, eponymous recording, which featured the same compositional fare. Vandermark, McBride and Drake now return with Version Soul, a recording of originals (mostly Vandermark compositions) that works as a complement to the band's debut.
Despite making multiple recordings and playing in dozens of bands, Vandermark has never lost touch with his inner fan. He has terrific, eclectic taste, and it shows here on the six compositions he's contributed to Version Soul. Each tune was penned with a dedicatee in mind, which gives the recording monstrous range. Vandermark debuts his baritone sax for "Reasonable Hour," a nocturnal bebop portrait of Serge Chaloff. For "Clocked," the tribute to Joseph "Zigaboo" Modeliste, Spaceways is unmercifully funky. Even melancholy abstract painter Mark Rothko catches a dedication on the 12-minute meditation "Rothko Sideways."
Still, for all the variation in sound, Version Soul makes its lasting impression with rhythm. Drake and McBride combine for an absolutely huge sound, whether they're wading through the reggae, funk or bop beats that wend their way through the program. Vandermark seems to understand the situation and knows when to get out of the way.