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Spaceways Inc. – version soul

Posted on: May 7, 2008

Spaceways Inc came into existence out of a need to pay dues to the music of Sun Ra and George Clinton. Thirteen Cosmic Standards (Atavistic) was the immediate result. On its sequel, Version Soul, Chicagoan reedman Ken Vandermark and drummer Hamid Drake and Boston-based bassist Nate McBride open their hearts with a set dedicated to various heroes.

Six Vandermark compositions have explicit dedications: reggae keyboard maestro Jackie Mittoo, musical director of Coxsone Dodd’s crucial Studio One label; Serge Chaloff. One of the finest exponents in jazz of the baritone saxophone (Vandermark has now added baritone to his armoury); Larry Graham, pounding electric bassist with The Family Stone and Graham Central Station; drummer Zigaboo Modeliste, swamp-funk engine of The Meters; righteous free jazz saxophonist Frank Wright; plus painter Mark Rothko, whose meditative wavelength has harmonized with an astonishing range of musical sensibilities.

Other unidentified currents flow through this taut, vital music. McBride’s three pieces name no names but key presences are felt, not least on the concluding “AII Frequencies”, where Vandermark’s clarinet sounds like a melodica as he engineers a real time virtual encounter between King Tubby and the Upsetter in Chicago. Drake is a marvelous reggae drummer – make that a marvelous drummer, full stop. In particular, McBride (on electric bass) is outstanding, technically and emotionally. If Version Soul invites influence-spotting, you can also listen to it straight, as these three superb musicians are making music that’s incredibly alive.

By mixing funk and reggae with some old-fashioned Hard Bop and a touch of free, the saxophonist lets the listener know this is something somewhat different than usual. From the opening sluggish “Back of a Cab ” it is clear that this is anything but a high-energy session. The trio rides through a series of dedications, including the airy “Reasonable Hour (for Serge Chaloff)” the powerful “Force at a Distance (for Frank Wright) ” and the introspective “Rothko Sideways (for Mark Rothko).” There are times when it seems to drag a bit, but much of what is heard is not about impressing with power, but instead exploring a range of emotions, something which Hamid Drake and Nate McBride do particularly well. For those tired of the saxophone trio – a format that has sometimes exhausted itself – Vandermark tries partially successfully – to resurrect it as a vehicle of broadened inspiration, where the traditional functions of sound, melody, and rhythm are primary, but where limits are transcended.

A power trio in the truest sense of the word, Spaceways Inc. takes its riddim responsibilities quite seriously. It’s a funky job, but somebody has to do it.

(I stole several parts from reviews by Steven Loewy/Cadence & Julian Cowley/The Wire)

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