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FME: Cuts

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.

Speaking of clarinets, Vandermark plays nothing but in Free Fall, a trio with pianist Havard Wiik and bassist Ingebrigt Haker Flaten. Taking its name from an album by Jimmy Giuffre, who gets a dedication with “291,” Free Fall combines a feel for chamber jazz with the free leanings of their other bands. Group-improvisation tracks appear between each tune, frequently making it hard to detect starts and finishes due to their seamlessness and the trio’s shifting roles of accompanist and soloist. “November” seems to describe the seasonal changes of that month: Wiik’s tranquil solo gives way to a clarinet wails that evoke cold winds and blowing leaves. In “Turn[s]” Flaten tests the stamina of his bow, raking it like he wants to shred it. Wiik’s droning “Mythologies” closes the album out with hypnotic authority.

Originally Published