Down Beat, April 1994: Vandermark Debut Explores Internal Grooves
by Aaron Cohen
Worlds collide on the Ken Vandermark Quartet’s explosive debut, Big Head Eddie (Platypus 001). This new disc showcases the group’s seamless blend of exploratory jazz tones, driving rock beats, and high-octane funk (see "CD Reviews" Jan. ’94).
"We grew up hearing different kinds of things," said saxophonist Vandermark. "And we’re trying to just play the music that we’re hearing in our heads. So it’s not us sitting around saying, ‘Let’s do a jazz tune,’ or ‘Let’s do a funk tune.’”
Primarily, Vandermark sees himself in the jazz tradition of Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, Cecil Taylor, and Anthony Braxton, as well as Evan Parker and other contemporary European improvisers. At 29, this quartet leader even looks like he could pass himself off as Dutch drummer Han Bennink’s younger brother.
Vandermark began playing while studying film at Montreal’s McGill University, and continued with music when he moved to Chicago in 1989. Windy City legend Hal Russell brought him in a substitute in the NRG Ensemble, where Vandermark learned the importance of irreverence.
When NRG bassist Kent Kessler formed a group with drummer Michael Zerang, they invited Vandermark and guitarist Todd Colburn.
"I had this big stack of tunes I composed because I hadn’t been doing anything other than playing by myself and writing stuff," Vandermark said. "So I kind of moved in and took over."
Since recording many of these compositions, the quartet has continued to develop. Dan Scanlan, who plays guitar, violin, and trumpet, recently replaced Colburn. Plans are in the works for a live disc on tours of North America, Europe, and Australia. Vandermark is determinedly optimistic.
"People growing up today hear more music than anybody has heard at any other time in history. To take all these sounds, process them internally, and play whatever you hear, creates a whole new ballgame."