Side A (Ken Vandermark, Håvard Wiik, Chad Taylor) — In the Abstract (Not Two, 2016)
I’m loving the sound of the clarinet and piano together on this atlbum. I don’t mean that in an audiophile way; I mean it in a simpler and very literal way. It’s a great sound, magnetically clean and studious.
Truth be told, In the Abstract isn’t all that abstract; in fact, it outright swings. Ken Vandermark (reeds), Håvard Wiik (piano) and Chad Taylor (drums) are presenting a set of chamber-jazz pieces, some of which really cook.
But the moments I’m enjoying most feature the clarinet in an almost academic atmosphere, music you might hear at a gallery opening of abstract paintings.
I’m thinking of moments like this stretch of “29,” where the clarinet notes are richocheting at odd angles. In this segment, you get a feel for the track’s pointillistic swing followed by the more free-form soloing section.
“Dhill” is a quieter clarinet piece with a more studious demeanor. The same is true for the first half of “Semiology,” but then Vandermark switches to baritone saxophone for a burly and more jumping finish.
The baritone generally drives the more lively moments on the album. “BMC” shuffles and swings almost like a straight jazz tune. And “4 from 5 to 6” is a standout for me. The band gets cooking on that number, with Vandermark bubbling smoothly on the sax.
As for Wiik’s piano playing, it helps feed those pensive segments I mentioned, but he can jam hard too. He gets a showcase during the jaunty opener, “Cadeau,” a track that includes the clarinet in some sharp-angled composed themes and a gnarled, furious solo.
So, yeah, In the Abstract is upbeat overall, with more than its share of busy segments. But it’s got some thoughtful “abstract” leanings, too, and that’s what really makes the album stand out for me.