Essential New Music: Edition Redux’s “Better A Rook Than A Pawn”

Edition Redux is the latest in a sequence of bands that Ken Vandermark has formed that permit him to explore the intersection of planning, spontaneous action and the ways music changes when either combined within or spilled out of stylistic containers. It also continues Vandermark’s reckoning with the fact that he has been around for quite a while, and the time has come for him to pass on what he knows. Edition Redux isn’t just a vehicle for his musical ideas; it’s a chance to impart them on a younger generation of players.

The group evolved out of an earlier Edition, with which the Chicago saxophonist/clarinetist honed a modular system for recombining written materials. Vandermark has done this in other bands. It permits him to not only realize complex pieces of music, but to shuffle them in ways that keep the players forever on their toes as they manage the challenges of transitioning from one prearranged section to the next and allowing differing moods and genres to make sense as their sequences change. Since the original Edition had a couple members whose schedules and obligations precluded touring, Vandermark reorganized the group as a stripped-down quartet that includes three much younger players: drummer Lily Finnegan, tuba/electronics player Beth McDonald and keyboardist Erez Dessel.

With them, Vandermark has toured both Europe and the Northeastern U.S., giving the unit time to master the combination of moment-to-moment improvisational focus and long-form consciousness necessary to make this music work. So, not only do they sound equally persuasive negotiating lightly swinging tunes, splayed-out abstractions and lurching, space-station funk, they thread these and other elements together into winding, paradoxically lucid yet story-free narratives. Solos emerge from the music, but they feel less like individual statements than balancing events that keep the action flowing and evolving. This results in a distinctive ensemble sound that combines clunky tavern piano and acidic, electronic textures with a rolling low end and nimble percussion and woodwind commentary. By turns elbows-out and intricately articulated, Edition Redux may be instantly identifiable as a Vandermark ensemble, but it has its own character. [Audiographic]

—Bill Meyer