Ken Vandermark & Paal Nilssen-Love
The Green Door Store, Brighton
Sunday 20th May, 2018
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 its indie rock remit to include some New Thing jazz artists. As a coda to that event, the ever resourceful promotion partnership of Dictionary Pudding and the Brighton Alternative Jazz Festival have brought a pair of genuine musical freethinkers to town on this quiet Sunday evening. Ken Vandermark and Paal Nilssen-Love take to the stage, framed by the modishly derelict-industrial girders and brickwork of The Green Door Store, and launch immediately into a furious tirade of squalling tenor sax and crashing tides of percussion that gradually coalesces into a swaggering polyrhythmic funk. Vandermark’s virtuosity and conviction are instantly present, projecting into the room, but equally impressive is the metronomically insistent power of Nilssen-Love’s drumming, his surging, clattering, endlessly inventive playing creating a turbulent sea over which Vandermark surfs, skimming the surface or diving into the groove, responsive to every current and squall. The drummer suddenly drops 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 returns to add terse punctuation. The saxophone barrage resolves into a nagging, insistent 3-note phrase which Nilssen-Love converts into a pulsing, monumental beat, and together the pair build and build it into a towering structure until it shatters apart under its own internal stresses. Next Vandermark reveals his extraordinary voice on clarinet; woody and tender in the lower register, ascending to high notes of a laser beam intensity, its melodic lines unfurl into something approaching a jaunty swing. Nilssen-Love responds with a barrage of unorthodox percussive effects that gradually merge into what appears in the closing moments to be a distant relative of a Brazilian chorinho. Further unexpected traces of Brazilian accents surface briefly in the snare patterns and repurposed items of samba percussion accompanying the next searing clarinet exploration – then, all too soon, we’re at the climax of the set. A protracted, more conventionally free-improv passage of gnomic dialogue between saxophone and percussion, all high tones and sudden startling crashes like Japanese gagaku, builds in intensity and then cataclysmically releases into a pounding 3-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 but loyal band of supporters give it their all as the heroes of the day bow, dripping with sweat, then leave the stage and make for the bar.
Ken Vandermark, saxophone; Paal Nilssen-Love, drums.