For many years reedist Ken Vandermark was one of the main engines driving Chicago’s improvised-music scene. He played all the time in loads of contexts, and regularly formed new configurations; along with gallerist and Reader contributor John Corbett, he brought to Chicago a seemingly endless stream of national and international musicians who’d never been here before; and he organized many important concert series. For much of the past decade, though, most of his work has been in Europe, and he hasn’t played as much in his hometown. In late 2014 he disbanded his last remaining local working groups—Chicago Reed Quartet and Audio One—and since then his performances in town have been less frequent than ever.
But thankfully, Vandermark hasn’t retreated entirely. He’s one of three programmers—along with Tim Daisy and Andrew Clinkman—behind the weekly Option concert series at Experimental Sound Studio, and he continues to share his music through his own Audiographic label. Late last year he released the final Audio One album, What Thomas Bernhard Saw, along with his second duo recording with remarkable New York trumpeter Nate Wooley, All Directions Home. A quick listen to the Audio One track “Boxers and Dancers” below ought to persuade you that it’s a drag the band no longer exists.
On Saturday Vandermark will give a solo performance at Corbett vs. Dempsey to celebrate Site Specific, another new release on Audiographic. It’s the most ambitious item in the label’s catalog: it consists of two CDs of solo improvisations, beautifully recorded by Dave Zuchowski, and an attractive 200-page book filled primarily with Vandermark’s photographs, shot around the world and emphasizing everyday details that most people look straight past. The first half of disc one was recorded at a show in the home of music programmer Kate Dumbleton as part of the Ratchet Concert Series. At that August 2014 performance, Vandermark preceded each piece with stories about the particular musicians each one was dedicated to, and those talks have been transcribed for the book. They might be my favorite aspect of this particular project. The tales are not only entertaining but also say a lot about Vandermark himself—how he came to the music, how he developed, his fears, his triumphs.
The second half of the first disc comes from one of three sessions conducted in different locations in Louisville, Kentucky, with the help of percussionist and music presenter Tim Barnes, who chose each environment for its sonic qualities: inside a reverberant ballroom; atop a train trestle; inside a giant pipe at a skate park. Below you can check out one of the recordings from the ballroom, a piece for baritone saxophone called “Cavern 1.”
Saturday’s event is free and starts at 3 PM.