There are no liner notes to Ben van Gelder’s new album, but his website says that Among Verticals is “an ode to New York,” and that the title comes from a painting in New York’s Museum of Modern Art by František Kupka. Madame Kupka Among Verticals portrays the artist’s wife in “a sea of … broad vertical brushstrokes.” It is “an image with a strong unspoken narrative, where the familiar is structured in an unfamiliar way,” which also describes Van Gelder’s music.
He is from the Netherlands and is one of the best alto saxophone players in jazz under 30, with a luminous, pure, personal sound. Like most of his generation, he wants to be a composer. Unlike most, he is succeeding. This recording contains no less than 14 varied, intriguing, detailed, complete works for septet, several in the one-to-two-minute range. What is familiar is Van Gelder’s commitment to lyricism. What is unfamiliar is his fresh concept of ensemble form. This is absolutely current jazz, sprung free rhythmically and harmonically. Yet it reveals both order and scale because Van Gelder thinks orchestrally. On pieces like the title track and “Silver/Grey,” colors shift as different instruments enter the blend. Counterlines come and go. Horn backgrounds for soloists move to the foreground then recede. Tunes stop and start over.