Joe Morris/Ken Vandermark/Luther Gray – Rebus (CF 083)
In the Daniel Kraus documentary on Ken Vandermark, the saxophonist is shown writing music, organizing tours, traveling to and playing gigs, the typical life of the titular Musician. What comes out of the film is some insight into a player who is known mainly through his numerous projects and prolific album output. Sometimes Vandermark can seem like the kid in high school who stayed at home working while everyone else was out on the golf course drinking beer. Perhaps he even was that kid but the results speak for themselves.
He is so dynamic an organizer and writes so much music that often his actual playing gets overshadowed. Certainly his style is unmistakable. Three albums though find him out of the role of a leader and playing music other than his own. Listeners will come away from the discs appreciating Vandermark the player and teammate and also gain increased appreciation on his own composing when contrasted against that of others.
Rebus is a trio under the presumed leadership of Joe Morris though nothing on the CD indicates this (no writing credits for the six pieces, entitled “Rebus” 1 through 6). And though Morris had recorded with Vandermark twice before (in 1996 and 1998), it is a relatively young relationship compared with his other affiliations (Morris also had a Vandermark tune dedicated to him on the Vandermark 5’s Burn the Incline). The music contained on Rebus, a word defined as a representation, is fascinating for its perpendicular nature. With Luther Gray’s solid and expansive drumming, Morris and Vandermark play against each other, the former working vertically while the latter moves horizontally. This creates a tension that contrasts Vandermark in his own group, where forward movement generates much of the momentum. Here, on four tracks over 10 minutes and two at under 6, the music grows outwards, circular almost, appropriately to the title more representational than declarative. Also, Vandermark is heard exclusively on tenor sax, a deferential move since his baritone can dominate most proceedings.