Ken Vandermark dedicates all of his compositions to some creative artist, and it can be interesting to see whether the honoree’s work actually influences the piece or is merely incidental. On Cuts, the Free Music Ensemble–reedist Vandermark, bassist Nate McBride, drummer Paal Nilssen-Love–salutes two painters, an experimental composer and an abrasive indie-rock band, with mixed results. “Necessary?/Reset/Slip,” a 19-minute piece for Finnish furniture designer Eero Saarinen, begins with Vandermark’s tenor practically running to keep up with his bandmates’ driving accompaniment. Toward the end, Vandermark locks into a minimal honking groove that dialogues with Nilssen-Love. While that minimal sax line creates tension, the repetitive clipped riffs in “Static (A Hundred Yards) Static” sound like Vandermark is taking the easy way out instead of cutting loose. It might be an attempt to evoke abstract expressionist Antoni Tapies–the song’s honoree–but it wears thin regardless. “Other Side Up/Boadas” (this one for surrealist painter/sculptor Joan Miro) finds the trio at their peak, Vandermark’s baritone bobbing and weaving around the unbridled rhythm section before they segue into a more sedate, clarinet-led section.
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