(((Powerhouse Sound)))


Monday, December 8, 2014
(((Powerhouse Sound))) – “2-1-75 (For Miles Davis)” from Oslo/Chicago: Breaks (2007 Atavistic)


Look, it’s a lot easier to come up with titles for these things when there are lyrics I can cull from. When it’s an instrumental song, I’m left figuring out ways to be clever, and that doesn’t always work out. So, apologies if you were led to believe that this entry was somehow connected to Mavis Staples. It’s not.

Anyway. (((Powerhouse Sound))), which I’ll be writing without the excessive parentheses from here on out if it’s all the same with you. I’ve written about Tortoise and “post-rock” elsewhere, and I’ve been playing and listening to jazz for a long time as well, and I have to say that the approach that Powerhouse Sound brings to the post-rock/jazz world is really exciting. Allmusic.com calls it “Avant-Garde Jazz, Free Jazz, and Post-Bop,” which I suppose is a way of acknowledging that it’s tough to tell exactly what Ken Vandermark and company are doing here.

We should probably start by talking about who Ken Vandermark and company are. Vandermark is most notably known for his eponymous quintet the Vandermark 5, but is generally a Chicago jazz dude in the great tradition of Chicago jazz dudes who like to keep things weird. He is joined here by fellow Chicago improvisational jazz denizen Nate McBride on bass. McBride, it bears noting, was trained at the New England Conservatory (I suppose it’s also worth noting that McBride relocated to Chicago in 2004, not a super long time before this came out). As this record was intended to be bass-heavy, free jazz bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten was brought in to represent Oslo.

Time out.

Do you know about how Scandinavia has and has had for some time a real thriving jazz scene? That’s worth exploring at some time.

Time in.

So, two bassists. That’s kind of Tortoise-y. So is Tortoise guitarist Jeff Parker, who is also a part of this project. And why not have a couple of drummers while you’re at it? Like maybe Paal Nilssen-Love, who, like Flaten, was trained at the Trondheim Musikkonservatorium? Add Tortoise drummer John Herndon into the mix, as well as the electronic beeps and bloops of noisemaker Lasse Marhaug, and you’re pretty much in business.

And it’s a fun business, because, you know, these guys can play. It’s not a bunch of weird art dudes like myself getting together and saying, “you know what would be fun?” There’s plenty of projects like that, and while I tend to enjoy some of those from time to time, they’re not nearly as fresh and exciting as this. These are some real deal accomplished jazz musicians, and they are putting it down.

This track starts out with a really heavy groove that builds and builds, and Vandermark (pardon my indelicacy here) just has his way with it.

If we have to be at a point in time that is somehow post-rock and post-bop and after-everything else, I want it to sound like this. Many times I’ve gone online and looked to see if there was a follow-up that I might have missed, only to find that this, this fantastic album, is it. They’re listed, heartbreakingly, as inactive on Vandermark’s site. I can’t recommend this record highly enough. I maybe made it sound like it is Tortoise-esque, but really that’s just the instrumentation. It is very much its own thing, and it is glorious. The international collaboration reminds me of the Minnesota sur Seine festival here in Minneapolis, a collaboration of jazz musicians in Minneapolis and Paris. Jazz is an international language, and Powerhouse Sound is fluent in it. Here’s hoping we get a second record someday.