The Midwest School
Jason Adasiewicz: vibraphone
Jeb Bishop: trombone
Josh Berman: cornet
Tim Daisy: drums
Nick Macri: acoustic and electric bass
Nick Mazzarella: alto saxophone
Jen Paulson: viola
Dave Rempis: saxophones
Ken Vandermark: reeds
Mars Williams: reeds
The inaugural releases on Ken Vandermark’s freshly minted Audiographic Records are a pair of albums from his most recent large ensemble Audio One, having previously cut his ‘big band’ teeth in Brötzmann’s Chicago Tentet, in addition to his own Territory Band and Resonance Ensemble. The initial impetus for the project was an extension of the nonet Vandermark assembled to investigate Joe McPhee’s work (found on Okka Disk’s ‘Impressions of Po Music’), coupled with Dave Rempis’ invitation to present a special project to mark the 10th anniversary of Chicago’s Elastic Arts Foundation. For the latter he convened a septet under the name The Midwest School, for whom he arranged material by musicians from said geographic locale, namely Chicago’s AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) and St Louis’ BAG (Black Artists Group). The success of that performance, alongside the depth of potential within the music, encouraged Vandermark to present the material again. Having increased the ensemble’s numbers to ten, the continued investigation focused on music from composers; Anthony Braxton, Art Ensemble of Chicago (including compositions fromoutside the group), Julius Hemphill, and Henry Threadgill. ‘The Midwest School’ documents the results in this concert recording from Chicago’s Green Mill (January 31st & February 1st 2014).
The five pieces chosen here are presented in a way which is grounded in the intent of the original composition. Rather than using the music as something to be rendered ‘in the style of’ the musician(s) playing it, the delivery of thematic material doesn’t really differ from the originals, and there isn’t much in the way of deviation from the linear progression of the compositions either. Individual voices are afforded their place during solos, but even these moments demonstrate a knowledge and deference to the original composition. Where the music is discernibly different is the manner in which it is arranged. It would be easy for the arrangements to be overcooked given that the size of Audio One dwarfs that of the groups who initially recorded this material, the originals having been cut by trios, quartets and quintets (discounting Fontella Bass’ vocal from Theme de Yoyo). However, the investigation of the musical architecture of each piece is so considered that the resultant arrangements manage to simultaneously sound as if they’ve always been played by a tentet, whilst appearing completely fresh and irresistible. This is arguably the great success of this ensemble, to pull fine detail from the subtleties of the original music’s sonic palette, and distribute throughout the expanded numbers in a way that both befits the intention of the composition, and plays to the particular strengths and character of the instrumental voices to whom they have been allocated. Couple this with the caliber of musicianship found here, and the potential for recurrent musical discovery inherent within the compositions, and the results stand shoulder-to-shoulder with both the best material to feature any of those involved, and the revered originals.
-Matthew Grigg, Free Jazz Blog, 2014