The continuing adventures of European drummer Paal Nilssen-Love and Chicago reedist Ken Vandermark, this album was recorded live in Antwerp Belgium in 2013, showing the powerful technical skills of both players and their euphorically great approach to free improv.
Vandermark, Ken / Paal Nilssen-Love
The Lions Have Eaten One of the Guards
Label: Audiographic Records
Released in: USA
"Recorded in Antwerp, Belgium in 2013, The Lions Have Eaten One of the Guards is yet another album solidifying Ken Vandermark and Paal Nilssen-Love as one of the most powerful improvisational duos around. Vandermark and Nilssen-Love have been playing together for more than ten years now (with almost as many records) and in that time, they've pared away the excesses, trimmed the fat, and stream-lined their sound. In essence, they've become leaner, meaner, and extremer.
Right out of the gate, "Slant" pummels you with Nilssen-Love's complex, careening drum-work and a flurry of notes from Vandermark. In a previous review on this website (for The Thing's masterful Boot!), it was suggested that Paal Nilssen-Love could be a stand-in for John Bonham if a Led Zeppelin reunion were ever to materialize. His performance on this track shows that to be an apt comparison. The sound is enormous, ecstatic, and constantly pushing forward - a barrage that builds and builds and doesn't let up. Nevertheless, Vandermark holds his own and doesn't get lost in the maelstrom (or the Moskstraumen, as it were). Alternating between propulsive funk, frenzied blues, and exuberant squawks with wild abandon, Vandermark provides a sense of joy that is sorely missing from many similar projects in the world of improvisational jazz. Midway through, he switches tenor for the baritone sax, and thus helps carry the piece into a different dimension altogether: unlike the muscular bravado of the first half, the second half takes on a decidedly more menacing tone - Vandermark emits clipped blasts that don't punctuate Nilssen-Love's rhythms so much as puncture them entirely. It's a welcome change of pace. As a whole, "Slant" showcases Vandermark's ability to play with both gospel-tinged fervor (à la Mingus sideman Booker Ervin) as well as with the uncompromising screech-and-skronk of European free-jazz maestros (and occasional bandmates) Mats Gustafsson and Peter Brötzmann. There's a wide range of timbres and textures that get explored by Vandermark in this piece, and Nilssen-Love provides the perfect rhythmic foundation to support them.
In an interview with Walter Tunis for the Lexington Herald-Leader, Vandermark made the following comment about his partnership with Nilssen-Love: "One thing that's different about Paal and I when we improvise is how a lot of the music really works with grooves as opposed to free time." That method definitely works to the duo's advantage on "Slant," and it makes it the perfect kind of music to run a race to, or box, or speed-clean, or any other task that requires a higher-than-normal energy output. This is vital stuff, and it doesn't stiffen up or get stale.
That's not to say the album is lacking in subtlety. The second track here, "Odd Numbers," starts with Vandermark on clarinet, and it takes a decidedly more elliptical approach than the piece that comes before it. Nilssen-Love shows a great deal of restraint here, teasing abstract, near-shapeless rhythms out of the kit and helping to build an atmosphere of tension and unease. Meanwhile, Vandermark goes on heady excursions that have more in common with Schoenberg's Wind Quintet than Shaw's Concerto for Clarinet. It's a nice break from the wild acrobatics and unrelenting intensity of the previous piece, but Nilssen-Love eventually picks up the pace, Vandermark grabs the tenor, and the duo slide back into a muscular groove. The melodies that occupy the second half of "Odd Numbers" are some of Vandermark's best, and they dispel the curling abstractions of the first half like wisps of smoke blown away in a hurricane.
The final track, "Color on Colour," is a minimal affair - a mournful dirge that helps bring the album to a satisfying, if somber, close. Ultimately, this is a fine album by the pair. It doesn't bring anything particularly new to the table, but it doesn't really need to. They've tapped into a sound that is eminently listenable and addictive, and it's exciting to hear them hone their interplay more and more as time passes. I would highly recommend this album to fans of Ken Vandermark's and Paal Nilssen-Love's previous duo work, and to any fan of powerful, melodic, but still adventurous music."-Derek Stone
• Show Bio for Ken Vandermark
"Born in Warwick, Rhode Island on September 22nd, 1964, Ken Vandermark began studying the tenor saxophone at the age of 16. Since graduating with a degree in Film and Communications from McGill University during the spring of 1986, his primary creative emphasis has been the exploration of contemporary music that deals directly with advanced methods of improvisation. In 1989, he moved to Chicago from Boston, and has worked continuously from the early 1990's onward, both as a performer and organizer in North America and Europe, recording in a large array of contexts, with many internationally renowned musicians (such as Fred Anderson, Ab Baars, Peter Brötzmann, Tim Daisy, Hamid Drake, Terrie Ex, Mats Gustafsson, Devin Hoff, Christof Kurzmann, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Joe McPhee, Paal Nilssen-Love, Paul Lytton, Andy Moor, Joe Morris, and Nate Wooley). His current activity includes work with Made To Break, The Resonance Ensemble, Side A, Lean Left, Fire Room, the DKV Trio, and duos with Paal Nilssen-Love and Tim Daisy; in addition, he is the music director of the experimental Pop band, The Margots. More than half of each year is spent touring in Europe, North America, and Japan, and his concerts and numerous recordings have been critically acclaimed both at home and abroad. In addition to the tenor sax, he also plays the bass and Bb clarinet, and baritone saxophone. In 1999 he was awarded the MacArthur prize for music."-Ken Vandermark Website (http://kenvandermark.com/2013/10/made-to-break-biography/)
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• Show Bio for Paal Nilssen-Love
"Paal Nilssen-Love was born in Molde, Norway, Dec 24. 1974, and raised at a jazz club in Stavanger, run by his parents. It was natural to choose his fathers drums as his instrument and jazz as his work. From 1990 on he took actively part in the jazz milieu in Stavanger and joined bands with established musicians such as trumpeter Didrik Ingvaldsen and saxophonist Frode Gjerstad. In many ways, these collaborations were essential as they pointed out the directions for Paal's later musical development and career. During his studies at the Jazz dept at the University in Trondheim, where the first self initiated bands were established, things developed really fast - and Paal was nationally acknowledged at the age of 20.
The forming of the quartet Element in 1993 in many ways represented the start of a new phase in Paal's musical life. Element musically became a platform for several other groups with bassist Flaten and pianist Wiik, and lead to collaborations with Iain Ballamy and Chris Potter, amongst others. Paal moved to Oslo in 1996, where he joined and/or took part in the forming of bands like Vindaloo, SAN, Håkon Kornstad Tio, The Quintet and Frode Gjerstad Trio. He later on got more into self initiated projects and collaborations with Swedish musicians, such as pianist Sten Sandell and saxophonist Mats Gustafsson.
Paal played his first solo concert in 1999, and since then the solo concept has been an important part of his work: "Everyone should try doing some solo work, just to feel who you really are and what gets you going". His solo album "Sticks and stones" was put out in 2001 on SOFA Rec.
Being active in several bands at the same time has always been Paal's deliberate working method. He is constantly conscious about the projects he is in, as his participation in each and one of them is fully dedicated. Playing is not about getting from start to goal, but rather being in an everlasting process, a continuous movement where each new piece of music performed is a prolongation of the latest. Hence, keeping focused and concentrating all energy around what's happening there and then is of greatest importance - as is the freedom in the music, the ability of being free within the expression.
All bands, although various styles and musical versatility in general, represent important pieces that make up a total, and all bands are formed or joined with a clear vision. Today Paal's portfolio includes Atomic, School Days, The Thing, Frode Gjerstad Trio, Sten Sandell Trio, Scorch Trio, Territory Band, FME, and various duo projects such as with reedmen Ken Vandermark, John Butcher, Mats Gustafsson, organist Nils Henrik Asheim and noise wizard Lasse Marhaug. And not to forget the recently joined Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet."-Paal Nilssen-Love Website (http://www.paalnilssen-love.com/biography.php)
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Label: Audiographic Records
Catalog ID: AGR-006
Squidco Product Code: 21581
Packaging: Cardboard Gatefold
Recorded in concert on October 20th, 2013 by Michael Huon.
Paal Nilssen-Love-drums, percussion
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1. Slant 27:54
2. Odd Numbers 20:44
3. Color On Colour 3:47