The Resonance Ensemble – “Head Above Water, Feet Out Of The Fire”


Resonance Ensemble - "Head Above Water"A thrilling large ensemble work that features the compositions of Ken Vandermark, and performed by an all-star cast of musicians.  Head Above Water, Feet Out of the Fire is comprised of a studio recording and a live performance.  The latter is a live recording from a 2012 performance in Hasselt, Belgium, and consisted of compositions that the ensemble had been working on during the tour and felt so successful, they wanted to get the music down on record.  The studio album was recorded in Chicago in 2012, and was to coincide with the Chicago Jazz Festival debut of new compositions.

This is music that’s got determination and drive, punctuates its solos with gusto, and casts out harmonic waves intended to sweep up listeners and take them away… and, thankfully, never forgets to deliver the goods with a conversational tone that is as intellectually gripping as the music is emotionally intense.

Your album personnel:  Ken Vandermark (baritone sax, Bb clarinet), Mikolaj Trzaska (alto sax, bass clarinet), Waclaw Zimpel (Bb & alto clarinets), Tim Daisy (drums), Mark Tokar (acoustic bass), Michael Zerang (drums), Steve Swell (trombone), Magnus Broo (trumpet), Dave Rempis (alto & tenor saxes), Per-Åke Holmlander (tuba), and Devin Hoff (bass VI).

“Creative Reconstruction Company (For Muhal Richard Abrams)” is a wild horse, alternating between an hypnotic cadence of hooves pounding earth at a gallop and the sudden rearing back and explosion of force upward, shouting up to the sky with all the fury gained from forward motion.

The uneasy drone of “Elegy for Two Rooms (For Fred Anderson and Von Freeman)” is both soothing and ominous, whereas “Type A (For Michael Orlove)” has a boisterous personality and a chipper attitude, ending sentences with wide beaming smiles.  Even, later, when the song breaks down into dissonance, that initial friendliness still comes through.

“Fsa Color (For Thomas Bernhard)” is a series of somersaults, a spinning motion that trumpet solos atop like walking a barrel.  Momentarily, the ensemble takes it down a gear, and settles into a pacified little stroll that builds up to a hike through the storm.

“Lipstick in Hi-Fi (For Jean-Luc Godard)” begins with a ramshackle swing, a motion that sways with a grim velocity.  Drums and tuba break from out of the crowd, run the table with a compelling point of contrast to the ensemble’s Big Sound.  The moans and howls of the middle section are an interlude to the slight reprise of the opening statement, but run down with the cadence of a stampede… furious, yet strangely ordered.

“The Other Shore (For Robert Irwin)” begins as a dust devil of reeds, shifts into a whirlwind, and ends as a focused jet stream of rhythmic propulsion.

The album ends with the perpetual costume change of “Watch Repair (For Michael Haneke),” a tune that reveals new dimensions with passion, while nonchalantly discarding over its shoulder that which is no more.

Tuneful music, thrilling music, and so very fun.

Released on the NotTwo Records label.

Available at:  eMusic | Amazon CD | Amazon MP3

However, if you want the CD, it’s cheaper at the Catalytic Sound site… which is a collective of like-minded musicians that joined together to sell their music.  Vandermark is a member of that collective, and it’s always best to buy directly from the artist whenever possible.


For the most part, this review is original to Bird is the Worm, but I sorta fell in love with a couple of the sentences that I originally used in my Jazz Picks weekly article for eMusic when I first talked about this album, and I wanted to use it here unaltered.  So, while I’m not even sure I need to do this, out of respect to eMusic, here’s some language protecting their rights to the reprinted material as the one to hire me to write about new jazz arrivals to their site…

“New Arrivals Jazz Picks,“ reprints courtesy of, Inc.
© 2014, Inc.

My sincere thanks to eMusic for the gig.