Israel Jazz Review: Ken Vandermark Quartet

Ken Vandermark Quartet at Levontin 7 on July 22.

CHICAGO-BASED reedman Ken Vandermark (photo credit: GEERT VANDEPOELE)
CHICAGO-BASED reedman Ken Vandermark
(photo credit: GEERT VANDEPOELE)
Free jazz doesn’t bring in the crowds, right? In an era when even more mainstream art forms are struggling to keep the wolves at bay, you’re not going to get ‘em packed in for an avant garde improvisational gig, are you? Judging by the premium on elbow room at the Levontin 7 club in Tel Aviv on Saturday night, the answer to the above is an emphatic “wrong!” Mind you, it can help to get Chicago- based reedman Ken Vandermark over here, to make his first appearance in Israel, together with a quartet of similarly free-flowing guys.
The show they put on at the basement venue was nothing short of mind-blowing.
You just knew, from the very first notes of whatever number they played, that you were in for a fun-filled, jaw dropping rollercoaster ride. But you never really knew what you were going to get, which way the sonic lines would go and what tangent one player or another would opt for, taking his similarly unbridled pals with him.
All the musicians seemed, magically, to be in perfect synch. There was no downtime as one solo ended and the others faffed around waiting for the requisite muse to arrive. There was a continuous ebb and flow to the venture. Trombonist Steve Swell was particularly inventive, going off on all manner of wild and woolly departures, with the others in tow. But even when one of the guys was in full unfettered flow, it wasn’t just a matter of the others obediently keeping the substratum in place.
Drummer Paal Nilssen-Love – like Swell, a returnee to these shores – following slots with equally adventurous free jazz leading light Peter Brotzmann – was forever adding color and texture, always finding something intriguing to offer as he saw fit.
Bass player Jon Rune Strom was also in on the act, soloing and supporting, and Vandermark, naturally, frequently creatively led the way but was perfectly happy to stand to one side, from to time, to let his pals get on with things.
Therein, perhaps, lies the essence of rewarding creative flight – knowing what to say and when to say it, and when to shut up. Happily, Vandermark et al had an abundance of sonic, emotional and dynamic tales to tell. Hopefully, the saxman and his pals won’t wait too long before they make their way back here.