June 13, 2024


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Ken Vandermark’s virtuosity and conviction were instantly present, projecting into the room with Paal Nilssen-Love: Video

The streets of Brighton have been overflowing with music fans thanks to this year’s Great Escape Festival, whose ever more eclectic programming even expanded beyond it’s indie rock remit to include some ‘New Thing’ jazz artists. As a coda to that event, the ever resourceful promotion partnership of Dictionary Puddingand the Brighton Alternative Jazz Festival brought a pair of genuine musical free-thinkers to town.

Ken Vandermark and Paal Nilssen-Love took to the stage, framed by the modishly derelict-industrial girders and brickwork of the Green Door Store, launching immediately into a furious tirade of squalling tenor sax and crashing tides of percussion that gradually coalesced into a swaggering polyrhythmic funk. Vandermark’s virtuosity and conviction were instantly present, projecting into the room, but equally impressive was the metronomically insistent power of Nilssen-Love’s drumming, his surging, clattering, endlessly inventive playing creating a turbulent sea over which Vandermark surfed, skimming the surface or diving into the groove, responsive to every current and squall. The drummer suddenly dropped out, allowing Vandermark to demonstrate his fluency and imagination in a solo atonal workout, with long gobbling runs, interspersed with fragments of shattered melody, unexpected squawks and honks; Nilssen-Love returning to add terse punctuation. Vandermark’s sax barrage resolved into a nagging, insistent three-note phrase which Nilssen-Love converted into a pulsing, monumental beat. Together, the pair ramped up the tension into a towering structure, which then shattered apart under its own internal stresses.

Next Vandermark revealed his extraordinary voice on clarinet; woody and tender in the lower register, ascending to higher notes of laser-beam intensity, melodic lines unfurling into something approaching a jaunty swing. Nilssen-Love responded with a barrage of unorthodox percussive effects that gradually merged into what, during its closing moments, appeared to be a distant relative of a Brazilian Chorinho. Further unexpected traces of Brazilian accents surfaced briefly in the snare patterns and repurposed items of samba percussion accompanying the next searing clarinet exploration. Then, all too soon, we reached the set’s climax – a protracted, more conventionally free-improv passage of gnomic dialogue between sax and percussion, all high tones and sudden startling crashes like Japanese Gagaku, growing in intensity and then cataclysmically releasing into a pounding three-beat worthy of John Bonham.

It’s a shame that none of the Great Escape crowd were present to witness this radical stomp – but the small, loyal band of supporters give it their all as the dynamic duo bowed, dripping with sweat, and left the stage to make for the bar.


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