FME | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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If reedist Ken Vandermark doesn't perform here as often as he did a decade ago, it's because his seminal involvement in Chicago's free jazz scene has earned him playing opportunities all over the world. Vandermark came to prominence by enlisting a dynamic coterie of local musicians in a wide variety of stylistically distinct projects, including the Vandermark 5, Caffeine, and Steam. He's still designing unique projects around specific musical mandates, but lately his collaborators have mostly been Scandinavians. On Furnace (Wobbly Rail), the trio Free Fall--Vandermark with Norwegian bassist Ingebrigt Haker-Flaten and pianist H'vard Wiik--reinvestigates the wide-open chamber-jazz sound of Free Fall, the classic 1962 album by Jimmy Giuffre, Paul Bley, and Steve Swallow. The project Vandermark brings to Chicago this week, FME (which stands for Free Music Ensemble), is also a trio, but has a very different mission. On their terrific debut, Live at the Glenn Miller Cafe (Okka Disk, 2002), Vandermark, Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, and Boston bassist Nate McBride forge some gritty R & B riffs into direct expressions of Vandermark's brawny musical personality. As his rhythm section pours on the power--the agile McBride carving Nilssen-Love's waves of rhythmic propulsion--Vandermark wrings infinite melodic and rhythmic variations from the simplest phrases. Last year Vandermark and Nilssen-Love also collaborated on a fine (though more frenetic) duet recording, Dual Pleasure (Smalltown Supersound). Wednesday, December 3, 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600.

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