Ken Vandermark/Philipp Wachsmann/Paul Lytton, Vienna Blue Tomato, 17 February 2011

Ken Vandermark is always a delight to watch and listen to, especially in the intimate surroundings of the Blue Tomato. Here he was in a trio I hadn’t heard before (a.k.a. CINC), with violinist Philipp Wachsmann and drummer Paul Lytton. I was particularly looking forward to seeing Lytton play for the first time, thanks to his long association with Evan Parker. As I’ve mentioned before, the Parker/Lytton/Barry Guy Live at the Vortex album on Emanem was my first ever venture into the world of free improvisation, and has been a firm favourite of mine ever since. I still haven’t seen that trio play, though, an omission I very much hope gets rectified someday.

CINC, though, are a very different proposition. While still fully improvised, the music seemed to have more in common with AMM (whose John Tilbury guested with CINC in London recently) than with the kind of pyrotechnics I’ve come to associate with Vandermark in groups such as the all-reeds trio Sonore and his exceptional duo with Paal Nilssen-Love. This music was characterized by quietness, small gestures and a sense of glacial calm occasionally broken by flurries of microscopic activity.

Lytton spent much of the set with his head bowed, locked into the reticence of his interventions, while Wachsmann’s presence on violin was equally modest and inconspicuous. Starting off on clarinet, Vandermark was later to trade his initial unobtrusiveness for a more testing and less rational approach on tenor sax. As is the way with such master improvisers, his partners went every step of the way with him, Wachsmann in particular laying down some beautifully deep and resonant drones reminiscent of Tony Conrad. The set as a whole was a timely reminder that free improvisation can be provisional and exploratory without losing any of its power to captivate.

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