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Ken Vandermark/Nate Wooley/Sylvie Courvoisier/Tom Rainey: Noise of Our Time (Intakt)

Review of collaborative album by bass-free quartet, recording together for the first time

Cover of Ken Vandermark/Nate Wooley/Sylvie Courvoisier/Tom Rainey album Noise of Our Time
Cover of Ken Vandermark/Nate Wooley/Sylvie Courvoisier/Tom Rainey album Noise of Our Time

The Intakt label of Switzerland has become an important repository for a genre that might be called “refined free jazz.” It is a productive niche within the jazz art form: edgy enough for thrills, structured enough for coherence. The opening track on Noise of Our Time, Sylvie Courvoisier’s “Checkpoint,” has the plunging, spattering tenor saxophone of Ken Vandermark and four-way contrapuntal turbulence. But its wild calls and responses also reveal intense collective listening. Within the cacophony, there is even something like a head-solos-head format.

It is striking how a small jazz ensemble is transformed when the bassist is omitted, especially when the drummer never keeps time. Tom Rainey scatters accents and splashes colors. The result is that the other three players operate in wide open space. The quartet here had never played together as a band until they made this record, in one four-hour session. Everyone but Rainey contributes three originals each. The tunes of Courvoisier are the wittiest. Vandermark’s are more dense and complex. Those of trumpeter Nate Wooley are wonderfully strange: “The Space Between the Teeth” shifts among drones, frantic eruptions and suspenseful long silences, while “Songs of Innocence” starts as formal and stately and becomes hair-raising clarinet/trumpet disharmony.

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