Album Review

Powerhouse Sound – “Oslo / Chicago : (((Breaks))) ” – [Atavistic]

Daryl Licht   10/25/2007   CD, Jazz

The Jazz world???s current leading light (in my humble opinion, and that???s saying something when you consider the curriculum vitae of some of the other potential contenders, such as John Zorn, Matthew Shipp, and William Parker) returns with the debut release from his new project, the aptly named, Powerhouse Sound. It seems Vandermark???s goal with the Powerhouse Sound was to create a unique, new sound by combining contemporary Jazz with a variety of funky rhythms and electronic sounds, ranging from the dub experiments of the legendary producers of reggae to classic funk and the sampling of hip hop. Several tracks are also informed by the influence of experimental rock, an element that has been present in previous Vandermark projects.

Vandermark originally formed this project in Norway, where he and bassist Nate Mc Bride were joined by Ingebright Haker Flaten (bass), Paal Nilssen-Love (drums), and Lasse Marhaug (electronics). Apparently, he was so pleased with the results of their efforts that he also formed a domestic version of the group, in which he and Mc Bride joined forces with Jeff Parker (guitar/effects) and John Herndon (drums). This double disc set features one studio album by each ensemble playing a similar set of compositions.

Although the Chicago group is featured on the second CD of the set, I preferred their performances, so I???ll address that disc first. Vandermark (who plays only tenor saxophone on this outing) is stellar throughout, whether crafting soulful melody lines or pursuing wild freedom chases. The rhythm section section of Hearndon and Mc Bride provides an excellent foundation for Vandermark and Parker???s sonic adventures. Mc Bride???s thunderous bass also supplies a great deal of the raw rock power. Perhaps the star of this disc, however, is guitarist Jeff Parker (Tortoise, Chicago Underground, etc.), who delivers reved-up R & B riffs, hallucination-inducing electronic treatments, and incredible improvisational leads. Together they create tracks that move seamlessly from groovin??? Jazz passages to delayed washes of electronic ambience to slamming funk and noisy, out-rock that are truly amazing!

The crew on Oslo disc achieves a similar sound on most of the tracks, but on a couple of pieces the differences in instrumentation do effect the final product and, in my humble opinion, not for the better. Simply put, Jeff Parker is able to cover more territory and, therefore, the Chicago unit more is versatile and their performances are more cohesive and flowing as a result. A couple of the tracks on the Oslo disc that rely too heavily on Lasse Marhaug???s electronics tend to lose focus and stall out a bit at times. On a positive note, however, the interplay betwen the two bassists, Mc Bride and Haker Flaten, provides for some incredible and often quite rocking moments. While, again, I certainly did find the disc created by the Chicago ensemble to be the superior document, it would be wrong for readers to leave with an overly negative impression of the disc produced by the Oslo quintet, as, overall, this is still quite an interesting and solid set of performances.

In summary, Vandermark and company have delivered some of the funkiest, most rocking, innovative and challenging work of their collective careers. ???Oslo/Chicago: Breaks??? is a tour de force that should not be overlooked. Outstanding!!!!!

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