Ken Vandermark - saxophones, clarinets
Mark Tokar - double bass
Klaus Kugel - drums

The trio’s first cd ESCALATOR is listed two times in the TopTen of the 11th Annual Jazz Critics Poll 2017 [ - ] and in the 5th Annual NPR / Francis Davis Jazz Critics Poll Ballot [ 5th-annual-npr-francis-davis-jazz ]

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CD review by Maciej Lewenstein, March 2018

***** ESCALATOR [Not Two MW 963-2] May 2016.
Recorded at Alchemia, mixed and mastered by Rafal Drewniany is a perfect example of Ken's synergy with "Central European" masters. The section of Kugel and Tokar is just marvelous. Ken plays with them the music somewhat in the style of Vandermark Five, but in a sense more rough and primitive, since it is reduced to a trio. One can also consider this reduction to be enrichment in terms of expression and depth. This is actually the interpretation I tend to follow. The music, as always in the case of Ken, has traditional co-notations: there are obvious associations with John Coltrane, Pharaoh Sanders, Joe McPhee and even Ornette Coleman. The opening "13 Lines" illustrate this perfectly. But, my favorite is the second "Automatic Suite", played on clarinet. "Flight" is notable for the amazing bowing work of Mark. "Rough Dis another tenor track, reminding me of DKV trio and Vandermark Five. The climax provides the closing "End Numbers". Is it a ballad? Is it an excursion into the late David S. Ware lands? Whatever it is, it has beauty out of this world. Or at least galaxy...

Review by John Sharpe, January 2018,

Recorded at Krakow’s Alchemia, the scene of many significant events for Vandermark, Escalator represents the recorded debut of a fiery co-operative trio completed by Ukrainian bassist Mark Tokar (part of Vandermark’s Resonance Ensemble) and German drummer Klaus Kugel. The driving fire music of the opening “13 Lines” establishes the template for the five pieces. It bursts out of the gate with an accelerating tenor saxophone riff, urgent almost walking bassline and pulsing cymbals, presaging incantatory overblowing from Vandermark, before halting on a dime. “Automatic Suite” begins with more reserve. Bass clarinet alternates between percolating flutters, sustained tones and squirreling falsetto, amid a soundscape derived from buzzy twangs and metallic washes. However, when Vandermark switches to baritone, it’s clear this is only going to end one way as he ramps up to red-lining intensity. Indeed, Vandermark seems especially to favor broad strokes and R&B-derived figures, delivered with a wide vibrato and mantra-like fervor. But with form-seeking improvisers like these, the seat-of-the-pants excursions turn into something more satisfying than a blowing date while sacrificing none of the excitement. Vandermark maintains a particularly responsive dialogue with Tokar throughout, well-evidenced by the braiding of squalling clarinet piping with rapid sawing during the striking introduction to “Flight”. On “End Numbers”, Tokar destabilizes breathy baritone balladry with splintering bow work, prompting a further bout of sermonizing, as the band exits in the manner in which it entered.

CD review by Gustav Lindquist, December 2017,

This album, recorded at the Alchemia Club in Krakow, Poland, May 5th 2016. Reedist Ken Vandermark who needs not a too thorough introduction here on FJB, is here heard with Klaus Kugel on drums and percussion and Mark Tokar on double bass.
German drummer and percussionist Kugel is a veteran in modern jazz that can be heard on more than fifty albums since the early nineties. He’s played with everyone from Peter Evans to William Parker to Jemeel Moondoc. He’s been in Theo Jörgensmann Quartet, Switchback and Baltic Trio. It’s an exhausting discography, and I must admit I have a lot of homework and a lot of exciting listening to do when it comes to Kugel.
Bassist Mark Tokar from Ukraine is at least for me most known for his work with Vandermark on the majestic 10 CD box ‘Resonance’. I’m very keen on hearing him with Martin Küchen and Arkadijus Gotesmanas on their Live at Vilnius Jazz Festival album released on No Business Records. Writing this I’m realizing that they do have digital options to purchase on their website. I’ll go get it right now.
Anyway, back to Escalator.
The album starts off the ’13 songs’. I can listen to the first seconds of this song 1000 times and still get a smile on my face every time. Ken and Mark start the song with a bluesy, swinging intro. I close my eyes and sink into the good feeling of a nice groove. But then Kugel joins in at a blistering pace. He’s on a different planet. It’s such a great dissonance, and done with such a delicacy that it just makes me very happy. Tokar gets lured over to join, but Vandermark is not yet done. He’s determined to keep on swinging, albeit with bursts of energy here and there. Eventually Ken too is ready to let it all out there and together they charge onwards to end the song. What a start of an album!
‘Automatic Suite’, a 15 minute more free and improvised performance. It has drummer Kugel using a wider set of equipment to accompany his friends. Vandermark who’s working closely together with Tokar. Ken introduces a 3-note ticking beat, but it’s only heard twice – and in between free excursions away from the theme. Ken then changes the direction with a thumping beat of doom and gloom. I immediately draw a line to Mingus ‘Better get hit in your soul’ which theme fits well on top of the beat, at least in my head. I can’t help it, it just keeps repeating. I even expect it to come in from a mysterious fourth member on stage at the Alchemia Club, but of course it doesn’t. Instead Ken keeps changing the melody around while the steady beat keeps playing in the background. I’m waiting for the fireworks to happen and for the song to move into another dimension but that doesn’t happen. Not to worry, there’s more to come on this album!
Third song, ‘Flight’. This part of the review is actually also written on a flight, between Frankfurt and London, after a 4 a.m. wake-up in Turin, Italy. I must admit, although I’m not at all scared of flying – the sounds heard in this song is not what I would want to hear during a flight… Metallic pieces are flying through the air, and what used to be a coherent “something” is now a dispersed swarm of “something else”. There’s an urgency and intensity throughout the seven minutes this one lasts for. I like it.
Two more songs to go. ‘Rough Distance’ and ‘End Numbers’. On the first one there’s another change in character. It’s a longer improvised track, over 13 minutes. We’re back to hearing how Ken twists and turns melodies around. I’d say it’s a typical “Ken-track”. He’s moving effortless through structures and emotions, but there seems to always be a clear and propelling force onwards and forward. Halfway through, the rhythm section provides a change, a break, while Vandermark gets a bit of rest to bring on the remaining minutes of madness until it’s over.
The final performance of this album takes us to a dark place. Searching sounds, something is sort of boiling beneath the surface. This starts off as a lonely song, again with Vandermark getting great support from Kugel and Tokar. But the song develops into celebration and swing and we’re left feeling grateful to have heard yet another great release with Vandermark.
In summary, this is a Vandermark trio album, and what a competent trio it is. I can only assume the audience left the concert very pleased with that they just heard. Oh, Ken Vandermark, your output is generous and quality is always very high. Thank you.

Review by Tim Niland, August 2017,

The music on this excellent album was created by a highly combustible trio consisting of Ken Vandermark on tenor saxophone and clarinet, Mark Tokar on bass and Klaus Kugel on drums and percussion. This album was recorded at the Alchemia Club in Krakow in May of 2016 and begins with "13 Lines" which blasts hard right out of the gate, with Vandermark's expressive saxophone holding court with the elastic bass and drums. They proceed into an epic blowout of collective improvisation, moving massive slabs of sound and developing a hypnotic gaze. There are long low tones of reed to open "Automatic Suite" which moves through several layers, swirling with gentle percussion and chimes giving way to shrieks of clarinet, with fractured rhythm refracting the music in all directions like a funhouse mirror. Vandermark moves back to tenor saxophone as the music deepens like an industrial machine that grinds relentlessly forward. The music becomes fast, deep and muscular, punctuated by growls and roars of saxophone. Supportive bass and drums are simpatico with the torrid saxophone, cracking like a weak levee and allowing a massive wall of improvisation to pour forth. "Flight" develops a very interesting texture with raw toned bowed bass sweeping across the landscape of the music, with saxophone joining at a similar pitch creating an alarming and unnerving sound. The trio comes together to create a fascinating mix, investigating the universe of free improvisation at light speed. Thick and fast bass and drums fuel "Rough Distance" with Vandermark adding a low and guttural saxophone which steams ahead full bore. There is a gleeful exchange of ideas, led by deep bellows of gruff saxophone, and the music is wild, yet coherent as the drums and bass open a fascinating rhythm which results in cascading waves of sound engulfing the listener. The finale, "End Numbers," has more abstract bowed bass with percolating saxophone and drums. They gradually develop a drone that makes excellent fodder for the impending burst of improvisation. There is a rich textural sound with raw peals of saxophone, that builds energy through repetition. The group builds to a rippling improvisation, reveling in the freedom of choice that is available. Everything flows organically as the music gradually proceeds to its conclusion. There is great empathy between the musicians themselves, and between the group and the music on this album. This is one of the most exciting album that I have heard this year, there is constant joy to be found in the bracing interaction of these musicians.

review by Sebastian Chosiński in Polish:

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