Ken Vandermark-Georg GrŠwe Large Band | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Ken Vandermark-Georg GrŠwe Large Band 


Last week, Georg GrŠwe and Ken Vandermark chose an especially ambitious curtain-raiser for the debut of their brand-new octet, an episodic GrŠwe composition that stretched to a set-long 45 minutes and alternated short, spiky solo turns--for bassist Kent Kessler and detail-oriented drummer Tim Mulvenna--with duo and trio sections of escalating complexity. In the second set, composed of five shorter pieces, Vandermark's music held sway, first with a gothic romance for his own hyperventilated tenor saxophone and later with a swinging south-side jaunt that trombonist Jeb Bishop made his own. As this tableau suggests, the music of GrŠwe--the rigorous and respected pianist-composer who recently moved here from his native Germany--offers a significant contrast to that of Vandermark, the ubiquitous local reedist who has become the poster boy for the thriving new-music scene in Chicago. GrŠwe tends to spread his music around the entire ensemble, which in addition to the players above also includes strings and oboe; at any given time in Vandermark's music most of the instruments function mainly as accompaniment, in arrangements that aggressively cushion, color, or accent the solos. (Fred Lonberg-Holm's deep experience with both notated and improvised new music allows him to serve as a sort of concertmaster for the octet's "orchestra voices," which include his own cello, Julie Pomerleau's violin, and Robbie Hunsinger's oboe, English horn, and sona, or Chinese oboe.) GrŠwe assiduously constructs his compositions from small building blocks of rhythm and timbre; Vandermark sets up groove-oriented showcases for free-jazz expressionism. The gap between the leaders' approaches gives this band an especially broad repertoire, not to mention a split personality. It'll be interesting to see whether the two styles begin to influence each other over time, but even if they don't, the Vandermark-GrŠwe Large Band promises to be the band to watch over the next few months. Thursdays in August, 9:30 PM, Bop Shop, 1146 S. Wabash; 773-275-7771. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Karen A. Peters.

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