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DKV Trio: Live in Wels and Chicago

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Although the DKV Trio’s stunning musical telepathy often belies the fact, none of reedist Ken Vandermark’s regular groups play with the more all-out freedom. Flanked by bassist Kent Kessler and percussionist Hamid Drake, this is a power trio with a capital “P,” and fueled by a sublime level of intuition and empathy the group turns straw into gold with alarming frequency. This ace rhythm section gives Vandermark plenty to work with; even amid complete chaos Drake has an almost divine sense of pulse, finding grooves where none should exist, and the woody, full-bodied heft of Kessler’s bass playing provides both an unobtrusive feeling of gravity and an extra rhythmic kick. By whatever alchemical process, this musical combination blurs that old line between improvisation and composition: well-formed, indelible licks appear out of thin air to propel each performance forward like a raft on white water.

Although Vandermark will occasionally borrow a riff to instigate things, the trio’s highly energized, disc-long interpretation of Don Cherry’s “Complete Communion” on disc one of Live in Wels & Chicago, 1998 marks the first time they’ve recorded something built from non-improvised themes. Since Vandermark is perpetually searching for ideas to precipitate inspired improvisation, Cherry’s masterpiece makes plenty of sense; it was essentially the first extended work of multi-thematic free jazz. The suite structure introduces four related melodic ideas into the performance, and while Vandermark doesn’t necessarily reference the written material as closely as Cherry and Gato Barbieri did on the original recording, the invigorating results nevertheless testify to the work’s enduring value. Disc two of this set-recorded at the trio’s favorite club, Fred Anderson’s Velvet Lounge-finds DKV mining its usual modus operandi with a veritable firestorm of explosive polyrhythms, brawny, soul-streaked motific improv and a pervasive, deep blues feeling. The shortest of the three pieces clocks in at nineteen minutes, but the barrage of cogent ideas, all of which flow impeccably into one another, warrants the length.