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>Pandelis Karayorgis/Ken Vandermark:
Foreground Music



Cover art by Dan Grzecka

Alchemia, Krakow, Poland

Stockwerkjazz, Graz, Austria


Foreground Music
Pandelis Karayorgis/
Ken Vandermark

Okka Disk, OD12065, 2007

Ken Vandermark, tenor sax, clarinet
Pandelis Karayorgis, piano

Recorded January 2006

Okka Disk info

available on Bandcamp

1. Lifgatowy
(Pandelis Karayorgis) 4:17
2. United Forces Of One
(Pandelis Karayorgis) 3:43
3. JCT
(Ken Vandermark) 4:23
4. The Clincher
(Pandelis Karayorgis) 3:59
5. Dreamless
(Ken Vandermark) 7:43
6. Betwixt
(Pandelis Karayorgis) 5:48
7. Title Without Year
(Ken Vandermark) 7:11
8. Of Two Minds
(Pandelis Karayorgis) 3:33
9. Absolute Camel
(Ken Vandermark) 5:44





Big record companies typically have lots of ideas about what their artists should be up to and who they should be working with. Independent labels operate more in the mode of documenting work that interests them, featuring musicians who seek out particular collaborators for both ongoing projects and one-offs. Each of the distinctive modernists on Foreground Music contributes his talents in several ways, including liner notes from each man. Multi-reedist Ken Vandermark's notes are especially revealing He writes a narrative of a process that began with his first encounters with pianist Pandelis Karayorgis on CD, which eventually led to a 1999 trio recording (with bassist Nate McBride), No Such Thing (Boxholder). The exigencies of geography (Vandermark based in Chicago, Karayorgis in Boston) and time have kept them apart since then but the clear need to reconnect has overcome those obstacles and the pair has reconvened in duo format. Despite Vandermark's compositions moving "further away from the roots of jazz" while the pianist, in Vandermark's words, "remains one of the best contemporary interpreters of the music of Thelonious Monk," the pair has no trouble whatever finding common ground. Their efforts have resulted in this eminently pleasing release.

Even without reading the notes, it's clear from the start of Karayorgis' "Lifgatowy," as Vandermark's quirky clarinet joins with the pianist's fractured opening, that there is something special going on here. Playing with, at, and around one another, as the songs demand, the two are equally matched and each is sensitively attuned to the nuances and directions of the other's solo flights. The pianist's other compositions range from the blues-based "Betwixt," with a brooding, Mal Waldron-flavored attack by Karayorgis (dynamite solo!) and relaxed, behind the beat saxophone playing, a pair of steady swingers designed for improvisation ("United Forces of One" and "The Clincher"), and "Of Two Minds," described by its composer as "an 11-bar theme with shifting meters and a fleeting reference to Lennie Tristano in the last four bars." Vandermark cites the Lee Konitz/Sal Mosca album Spirits as the "inception" to this project, and the first of his pieces here, the knotty “ICT,” is dedicated to the late Mosca. Improvising pioneer Derek Bailey passed away around the time this music was being prepared, and "Dreamless" is dedicated to him. Vandermark is hyperaware of the irony of writing a tune for the guitarist, and the tension of that dichotomy informs and fuels his music, as it does so many other composer/improvisers around the globe. The thoughtful and spacious "Title Without Year," dominated by Vandermark's clarinet, is dedicated to painter and art theoretician Josef Albers. "Absolute Camel," Vandermark's piece for Misha Mengelberg, ends the disc in rousing fashion in a tenor and piano excursion that visits a considerable amount of musical territory in less than 6 minutes. One rehearsal, one gig, and one quick session were all they needed to create this gem. In typically exploratory fashion, Vandermark ends his notes with a series of questions, ending with "Where does it go from here?" I can't wait to find out either; meanwhile, there's this keeper to keep coming back to.
Stuart Kremsky, Cadence Magazine, Oct/Nov/Dec 2007

Duet albums are like spark plugs: if the gap is too wide or too small, combustion won't happen. Pianist Pandelis Karayorgis and reedman Ken Vandermark are just close enough in temperament to sustain a duet disc, but not too close to bum it out too soon. Their aptly titled Foreground Music is full of fascinating conversation, sometimes rigorous, sometimes rambling, always respectful and intelligent. Its predecessor was the excellent 1999 trio date, No Such Thing , recorded with bassist Nate McBride for Boxholder and released in 2001. Karayorgis and Vandermark got back together in Jan. 2006, recording this session after one rehearsal and one gig at the Zeitgeist Gallery in Cambridge, Mass. According to Vandermark's liner notes, they made the CD in four hours, including coffee breaks. The spontaneous rapport is palpable as they follow each other like two old friends wandering over town and country, barely conscious of where their feet are carrying them. "Dreamless," for example, picks slowly through a desolate warehouse of the mind, but the focus and lyrical insight of the musicians never flags. "Betwixt" builds on a Monk‑ish theme that's all sudden turns and leaps, with a mischievous walking bass like a soiled mattress. Here, and throughout the session, Karayorgis' rejoinders to Vandermark's statements are so natural you forget the two are playing instruments at all. (...) Both discs [refers to Rebus on Clean Feed] showcase Vanderrnark's sharp sense of drama and abhorrence of cliche. He knows how to sneak up on you, how to bend your ear and how to vanish.
Lawrence Cosentino, Signal To Noise #47, Fall 2007

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 [Rebus, Foreground Music, Bridge 61]. 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. (...) On the same disc with the song in tribute of Joe Morris, another piece was for pianist Pandelis Karayorgis. The pair had recorded once before in a 1999 trio with bassist Nate McBride. On Foreground Music they are found in the intimacy of a duo, sharing song-writing responsibilities. Vandermark wrote all new music for the collaboration and sticks to tenor saxophone and clarinet. The opportunity to hear him in subtle dialogue with a pianist is intriguing. None of the usual bombast is here and even Vandermark’s pieces seem geared towards the understated (though some of them are ripe for reworking for the Vandermark 5). And on the Karayorgis pieces, Vandermark is almost sedate, with little overblowing or punctuation. If Rebus is afternoon music, Foreground Music is there for settling in before bed.
Andrey Henkin, All About Jazz, Summer 2007

*** If, on his last duet offering with Paal NilssenLove, Vandermark was unleashed, now he is reined in. In the previous instance the pieces felt too long because there were too many moments of stasis whereas here they are so well conceived and executed in places they could have done with being longer. In his sleeve notes Vandermark mentions Jimmy Giuffre as a point of departure for the project given the mutual interest that he and Karayorgis have in the somewhat neglected clarinettist. It's an interesting reference but while the echoes of Giuffre's evanescent classically inflected work are clear enough, the fiery formstretching impulses that have defined Vandermark's aesthetic are by no means negated. Many pieces are constructed without set harmonic guidelines and the players provide I changes' in ways that are less direct but no less effective: an aggressive sharpening of a chord; a heated punctuation of a phrase; a stark jump in volume that doesn't shatter the decibel range laid down for a given piece. The harnessing of the energy as well as the energy itself makes this music work. And it's done well enough to suggest that a second volume of this partnership would be very welcome.
Kevin Le Gendre, Jazzwise, October 2007

Lo malo de los artistas que trabajan con muchos planteamientos, formaciones e ideas musicales es que no siempre tienen éxito en sus proyectos. Por otro lado, lo bueno es que, en muchas ocasiones, el mero experimento ya es suficientemente enriquecedor, aunque en definitiva sea fallido.
No quiero dar una idea equivocada de mis impresiones de este CD que, es más, ha sido para mí una sorpresa especialmente grata. Ken Vandermark es precisamente uno de esos músicos polimórficos, capaces de sacarse de la manga cinco proyectos completamente diferentes en una semana. Al mismo tiempo, es un tipo muy propenso a los dúos, habiendo grabado algunos de los mas fantásticos de los últimos años (particularmente los dos volúmenes de Dual Pleasure con Paal Nilssen-Love), pero no es con los pianistas con quienes mejor se entiende.
Vandermark es un músico tremendamente centrado en aspectos rítmicos, y su música evita a menudo la presencia del piano. De hecho, en su disco Two Days In December, sus dúos con Sten Sandell, sin estar mal, no llegaban a cuajar, y eso se evidencia en particular al estar junto a colaboraciones más exitosas, como las de Raymond Strid o Kjell Nordeson.
Pues bien, Vandermark, además de componer específicamente para cada proyecto que tiene, es un artista en constante evolución, y esta grabación con el excepcional Pandelis Karayorgis es un muestrario de su interminable viaje musical y de su cada vez más asombrosa capacidad para improvisar con solvencia en cualquier ámbito. Karayorgis lleva unos cuantos años grabando interesantísimos discos para Leo en piano solo o trío (con Nate McBride y Randy Peterson), y es uno de esos pianistas cuyo interés es inversamente proporcional a su popularidad.
Vandermark dice en la carpetilla que el LP Spirits, de Lee Konitz y Sal Mosca es, en cierto modo, el germen de este proyecto. Desde luego, hay mucha más libertad aquí, pero todo el disco está marcado por una constante comunicación entre los dos solistas y el ambiente no deja de recordar a grabaciones como la mencionada. La música discurre natural, sin tiranteces ni los choques habituales en este tipo de dúos. Cada uno tiene su rol muy claro, y es Karayorgis el que construye el barco que conduce Vandermark, reafirmando lo imprescindible de cada uno de ellos.
Parece que el prolífico saxofonista ha encontrado una vía más por la que expulsar toda esa creatividad que lleva dentro. Confiemos en que siga explotándola, porque lo que contiene este disco merece mucho la pena.
Yahvé M. de la Cavada, tomajazz.com

There is a sequence to this list, namely, the energy level goes down. But again, that's no negative judgment, just a factual statement. On "Foreground Music", Ken Vandermark joins forces with Greek national Pandelis Karayorgis on piano. Karayorgis moved to Boston in the 1980s to perfect his playing at the New England Conservatory, and he remained in the neighborhood. His playing is absolutely excellent, not expansive, but precise and concise, giving as much attention to the compositional structure as to the melodies themselves. And again, Vandermark feels as comfortable in this context as in any other. The music is abstract, with angular melodic figures, sometimes close to modern classical, but also at times reminiscent of middle-eastern music, with its long-winding themes and odd metres (on "JCT"), or just plain romantic and subdued (on "Dreamless"), or digging into jazz heritage and film music. The sensitivity and restraint are unusual for Vandermark, but it is absolutely excellent. Great musicians, great interplay, great music. Candy for the ear. A real treat.


Liner notes by Ken Vandermark and Pandelis Karayorgis

"Where did it begin?"

What's the clear answer regarding the starting point for the work on "Foreground Music"? Is there one? The first music I heard from Pandelis was from his trio album, "Heart and Sack," with Nate McBride and Randy Peterson. That was several years ago and it remains as one of my favorite recordings. I had the chance to hear him play in concert a while later, but until then I kept searching for his cds- good music like his is well worth hunting for. After listening to the albums and hearing him perform it became clear to me that working together would be an exciting prospect, and I wanted to try to organize a chance to collaborate. Thankfully Pandelis was also interested in the idea.

Maybe that's when the whole thing started, while trying to find that first chance for a concert/recording. I can no longer remember the reasons for why we chose a trio with bass and without drums, but it probably had to do with our mutual interest in Jimmy Giuffre's music. Including Nate McBride in the project made perfect sense- he had worked separately with the two of us for years. In a sense, Nate served as the creative link between whatever musical ground Pandelis and I had been exploring on our own, and he was a strong composer in his own right. The process of working together resulted in the cd, "No Such Thing," which was recorded in the spring of 1999 and released by Boxholder in 2001.

There are a number of varieties of distance. In the case of our initial encounter I would say that, in retrospect, those factors helped to push the trio towards one end result, rather than enable an ongoing concern. Because of this problem, I was surprised when Pandelis brought up the idea of trying to work together again- many of the same elements of distance would still be involved: geographic (Boston and Chicago aren't exactly around the corner from each other), compositional (I've continued to move further away from the roots of Jazz, while Pandelis remains one of the best contemporary interpreters of the music of Thelonious Monk, these differing standpoints greatly affect the way we compose), and environmental (most of my work has been done with a large number of ensembles that run simultaneously, whereas Pandelis has gone deep into territory explored by a fewer number of collaborators). Fundamentally, however, he two of us are interested in the process of developing new sets of languages for improvised music. I would say that this is why the idea of a new project made complete sense, despite whatever kinds of distance could still be "in the way" of our ability to communicate clearly.

Perhaps the Lee Konitz/Sal Mosca album, "Spirits," could be considered as the inception for this project. Nate McBride had recommended the recording to me, as Pandelis had recommended it to him beforehand (at this point, pretty much all of the music I listen to is suggested to me by other musicians). As soon as we discussed it, the duo format seemed to make perfect sense- just the piano and reeds, nothing more. Granted, modeling the project on a document created by two master improvisers with a long history of playing together was a bit mad, but their level of artistry gave us something significant to shoot for. Now that I had a format, I could start to compose for it (maybe THAT was the beginning).

One of the pieces, "Dreamless," was dedicated to Derek Bailey, who had passed away around the time Pandelis and I met to play and record. The irony of writing a piece of music for an improviser who had spent much of his career fighting against the "tyranny of the composer" was not lost on me. Bailey usually preferred to work in ad hoc situations. This seemed to be the best way to create musical situations that had a chance of surprising him with their outcome. In my experience, I have found that the element of surprise, which is so essential to improvisation, goes much deeper when the level of communication has been developed over time. So, unlike Bailey, I tend to work with long standing groups. In a sense, this duo is located somewhere between these two opposing methods for working with improvisers.

Rehearsals of the new material began in Boston during January of 2006. It was another starting place, an attempt to further close the gap in our experience of playing together. There wasn't much time to accomplish this, however. I remember there was one day of rehearsal, then a brief review of the pieces the next afternoon, followed by our performance at the Zeitgeist Gallery in Cambridge, Mass. that evening. We entered the studio the following morning; it turned out to be one of the most direct and focused recording sessions I've ever done in my life. I think we set up and finished working in less than four hours, including the time spent on breaks for coffee. Almost every piece was completed with a first take.

What had happened to make this particular project so musically effective? How much more did we know about each other, and the music, before we began to collaborate this time? How much had changed in each of us since the last occasion when we had played together? Why was an unusual format (a duo of piano and reeds, playing music without chord changes and ignoring a variety of other jazz conventions) so unusually easy to work with? How does communication function, why does it improve? When did the issues of distance shift to elements of proximity, allowing for such clarity in our performances? Was it during those morning hours in January at the studio that project really began?

In the spring of 2007 Pandelis Karayorgis and I will travel to Europe to tour and perform this new duo music night after night, after traveling day in and day out. At that point we'll be faced with a new question:

"Where does it go from here?"

-Ken Vandermark, Stockholm, October 29, 2006.

It's been over seven years since Ken Vandermark and I worked on our trio CD "No Such Thing" with bassist Nate McBride. During this time we only occasionally had a chance to play together again?either as a trio with Nate or as a quartet with the addition of drummer Curt Newton?although I heard Ken numerous times during stops through Boston and on the few occasions I visited Chicago.

As I was looking for a way to continue what we started in 1999, the possibilities of a reeds-piano duo became an intriguing choice. Ken agreed, suggesting also that we focus on our own compositions. In January 2006, with only one rehearsal and after just one gig at the Zeitgeist Gallery in Cambridge, Mass., we made this recording the following day in a single session at the studios of WGBH.

Two of Ken's compositions, "Title Without Year" and "Dreamless," seamlessly blend notated sections with ones that are more or less improvised. Ken expertly sets up improvisational frameworks, using simple directions and cues interspersed with a few bars of notated material. These two evocative tunes, which are among my favorite ones on this CD, suggested to me directions I would probably never have taken on my own?a very rewarding challenge.

Ken's two remaining compositions, "Absolute Camel" and "JCT," have fewer pre-arranged elements, and are written in the more conventional style of heads followed by solos, which is the form my own pieces also follow.

About my own pieces: "Betwixt" is a play on accent and release within a 12-bar blues cycle; "United Forces Of One" and "The Clincher" both set up a steady swing feel?which itself becomes material for improvisation; "Of Two Minds" is an 11-bar theme with shifting meters and a fleeting reference to Lennie Tristano in the last four bars; and "Lifgatowy" is a piece I wrote in 2005 based on a transcription of a solo I took on a 2004 mi3 (trio with Nate McBride and Curt Newton) recording.

-Pandelis Karayorgis


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