The Ex Guitars Meet Ken Vandermark / Paal Nilsen-Love, Lean Left Volume 1 (Smalltown Superjazzz)

Lean LeftLen Left vol 1

This is an absolute blast. Given the personnel involved, that may not be a surprise. Between them, Chicago saxophonist Ken Vandermark and Norwegian drummer Paal Nilsen-Love have played with some of the heaviest heavyweights around, from jazz titans like Peter Brötzmann and Fred Anderson (RIP), to noise behemoths like Kevin Drumm and Lasse Marhaug. Here, they join with the guitarists Terrie Hesspal and Andy Moor from Dutch anarcho-punks The Ex for an album of huge math-jazz-punk-funk grooves.

The title of the album alludes to the fact that the concert from which this was recorded (at Amsterdam’s Bimhuis) was so loud that Vandermark nearly coughed up his lungs on the stage. He blames The Ex – for unlike on their amps, there is no volume control on his saxophone. That doesn’t appear to have been a problem at the start of this gig – for the first ten minutes of Lean Left Volume 1 are made up of just Vandermark and Nilsen-Love, experienced in each other’s company, building almost unbearable tension. The bodily integrity-troubling stuff comes later.

On opening piece “Lean Left” the drummer starts with a percussive clatter, sticks against wood, while the saxophonist begins a long and turbulent section of improvisation, ever so slowly, flirting with the groove, working his way towards a section of repeated melody. He stays in this mode for the following “Lean Over”, playing a maddening descending riff over and over, getting increasingly ragged as he goes, until – finally -the guitars stir, waking with a whimper and a squeal, before joining Vandermark in that massive, almost Shellac-like riff. It is one of my favourite moments in recorded music this year, no doubt, and it frees the saxophonist up to produce a succession of loud split squawks over the top. “Right Lung” is a sprawling nigh-on thirty minute improvisation, beginning with Hesspal and Moor squabbling with Nilsen-Love, before Vandermark joins in…and what is THAT he is playing? It sounds like he is jamming on the Art Ensemble Of Chicago’s “Theme De Yoyo”. Glorious. For the remainder, they drift in and out of various combinations, reconvening to share in transient-yet-deep grooves – I think Vandermark may even quote the Arkestra at one point, although I can’t place the track. It sounds like he is having a lot of fun. As will you listening to this.