Ken Vandermark • tenor saxophone, clarinet
It is thanks to the initiative of percussionist Martin Blume, that the US-American-German quartet SOUNDBRIDGES had been founded in 2021, in which he is joined by the saxophonist Ken Vandermark, trombonist Matthias Muche and synthesizer player Thomas Lehn.
Its premiere concert took place on September 10th in Dortmund at the Visual Sound Outdoor Festival, followed by appearances at the Ruhr Jazz- and the Peitz-Festivals organized by the label jazzwerkstatt, which released the quartets first CD Soundbridges in September 2022.
In the early spring of 2023 the quartet accomplished a 11-concerts-in-12-days CD release tour of Europe. Part of that was a performance at the artacts festival in Sankt Johann in Tirol. The live recording of this concert will be released as a vinyl LP by the festivals associated label Idyllic Noise.
The communication between the players of this furious quartet leaves nothing to be desired... . A sonically-rhythmically multifaceted sound... A music that skillfully alternates between eruptions, high-energy density and cautious, sparing parts.
- Jazzpodium June/July 2023 | review CD Soundbridges by Udo Andris DE / EN
Signal tones 'from outer space', abruptly interrupted by loud noise and threatening feedbacks, meet tonal fissures and overtones accompanied by the discreet beating on drums, bells and various other objects. It continues like this for the next 50 minutes, constantly fluctuating between the calm and dynamic parts, without ever losing its footing. And then culminates in a loud explosion, which after 35 minutes functions like a sound bridge that keeps the music flowing. A sequel is strongly welcome!
- Holger Pauler | liner notes CD Soundbridges
Released September 2022 on German CD label jazzwerkstatt
www.jazzwerkstatt.eu | JW 219 | liner notes | reviews | press release | CD booklet
1. Aperture (4:47)
2. Aspect Ratio (12:56)
3. The Thirty-Nine Steps (19:20)
4. Arc Shot (11:16)
5. Overlapping Edges (3:28)
Recorded by Christian Heck/Tonart Studio on 24th September 2021 at Ruhrjazz Festival
at Kunstmuseum Bochum. Mixed and mastered by Thomas Lehn. Produced by Ulli Blobel.
Cover artwork by Chris Hinze, cover design by Herbert Weisrock.
liner notes by Holger Pauler:
„Live concerts have become a rarity in times of Corona. For a music form that practically 'lives' from improvisation and interaction, a special magic emanates from concerts: They are an audiovisual experience. On this recording, you can't see the musicians, but you can feel their energy and imagine them playing together and communicating and listening to each other.
Soundbridges was recorded on September 24, 2021 as part of the 'Ruhr Jazz Festival' at the Bochum Art Museum. Sharing the stage that evening were four musicians whose paths have crossed several times over the decades: Ken Vandermark, Matthias Muche, Thomas Lehn and Martin Blume. And the fun they are having is audible. They go straight into full swing, as if they had a world to win: Shouts on the saxophone and trombone are amplified by driving rhythms and analog synthesizer sounds. One free jazz attack follows the next. After four minutes things suddenly quiet down again – the calm after the storm. Signal tones 'from outer space', abruptly interrupted by loud noise and threatening feedbacks, meet tonal fissures and overtones accompanied by the discreet beating on drums, bells and various other objects. It continues like this for the next 50 minutes, constantly fluctuating between the calm and dynamic parts, without ever losing its footing. And then culminates in a loud explosion, which after 35 minutes functions like a sound bridge that's keeping the music flowing.
Although there are few guidelines, the four musicians don't move in a vacuum. They are able to draw on shared experiences from the stage and studio. The present concert also marks the end of a short tour. And as is so often the case with improvised music, the other concerts continue to resonate here: The interplay is intuitive, creating a delicate, yet complex sound structure that is held together by an imaginary band.
The title Soundbridges, by the way, is a reference to a technique known from the cinema. It involves semantic and referential dynamics, as well as the acceleration and superimposition of different scenes – or in the case of the music, different pieces. The titles not only allude to cinematicarchetypes – The Thirty-Nine Steps is an homage to Hitchcock's film of the same name – they also play with the technique: Aperture, Arc Shot or Overlapping Edges. The transitions are correspondingly fluid and there are hardly any breaks. Instead, a simultaneousness is created, even as the next radical turn resounds: The Echo connects the past with the future while leaving listeners space to develop their own (audio) visions. A sequel is strongly welcome!“
EN | DE | concert reviews
english CD reviews
The communication between the players of this furious quartet leaves nothing to be desired. The CD was recorded in 2021 at the Kunstmuseum Bochum as part of the Ruhr Jazz Festival. Before that, the improvisational ensemble was on tour, which is why the interaction and responsiveness of the crew certainly sound especially coherent from the stage. Ken Vandermark from Chicago (tenor saxophone, clarinet) and his German comrades-in-arms Matthias Muche (trombone), Thomas Lehn (analog synthesizer) as well as band founder Martin Blume (drums, percussion) formulate a figure-rich free music without guidelines, preferring complex collective improvisations. A sonically-rhythmically multifaceted sound, which also receives an additional individual touch through Lehn's synthesizer textures. A music, too, that skillfully alternates between eruptions, high-energy density and cautious, sparing parts. Dramaturgically particularly stimulating is the over 19-minute track "The Thirty Nine Steps" with its dynamic finesses, attractive metamorphoses and with delightfully changing coloration.
- Udo Andris | Jazzpodium June/July 2023
Imagine the following scenario: A highly likeable German soccer club, whose team inspires mainly (but not only) by its playing style (but not only), augments themselves for one season with an outstanding international superstar (e.g. Cristiano Ronaldo or Erling Haaland). This is what it looks like when three top musicians of the German improv scene - drummer Martin Blume, who initiated this project, Matthias Muche on trombone and Thomas Lehn on synthesizer - invite Chicago legend Ken Vandermark as their turbo.
What you get is, a whole panopticon of what constitutes free jazz in 2022. Brutal, energetic, expressive outbursts; sounds that get lost like in a giant stalactite cave; moments of silence; a back-and-forth shuffling of tones. But what makes the band’s own sound so distinctive? The obvious and most interesting fact is that the bass in the rhythm section is replaced by an analogue synthesizer, which opens up completely different sonic possibilities. This is immediately evident in the short opener “Aperture“, when the pinpricks of the winds are mirrored by electronic gargle tones, or when Thomas Lehn blurs them with textures as in “Aspect Ration“. Here he sounds like a fierce wind whipping wet flags against a wall. What is more is the fact that the quartet excels in small gestures: The musicians harmonize with delicate ease, build tension without resorting to plain crescendos, slip from one unexpected note to another at the last second, find drama in silence and calm in chaos.
In some, rather quiet moments, this is reminiscent of Pauline Oliveiros’s Deep Listening Band, then again of sounds on a Formula 1 race track or a fairground, especially when Muche and Vandermark exchange wild blows, as at the end of "The Thirty-Nine Steps“.
Again, Soundbridges offers a lot: dynamics, wild free jazz, contemplative phases, sound excursions. Everything flows homogeneously into each other as if there were no dividing lines. Through sound bridges, in the most beautiful sense of the word.
Martin Schray | The Free Jazz Collective
Soundbridges quartet was initiated by German drummer Martin Blume immediately after the Covid-19 lockdowns were lifted and American musicians were able to travel and perform in Europe. Blume invited the Chicagoan reeds hero, with whom he performed before two decades ago; German, Vienna-based analog EMS synth wizard Thomas Lehn, who played with Blume in the Speak Easy quartet with vocal artists Phil Minton and Ute Wassermann and played with Vandermark in his iTi project; and young German trombonist Matthias Muche, who played before with Lehn in the James Choice Orchestra. This quartet did a short tour in Germany and recorded its debut album at the Bochum Art Museum during the Ruhr Jazz Festival in September 2021.
The free improvised music is credited to these experienced and gifted musicians. The unique instrumentation, with no bass, opens new sonic and rhythmic options for this energetic quartet. Vandermark acts instantly as a tireless dynamo, pushing the dense commotion forward all the time, and finds immediate affinity with Muche. Lehn and Blume suggest layered, sometimes alien-sounding, restless but highly nuanced rhythmic patterns that trigger Vandermark and Muche to explore their extended breathing techniques.
It does not take long but the quartet already settles on powerful free jazz mode on «Aspect Ratio» with Vandermark taking the lead role, and later even introducing a lyrical, swinging tone. Lehn plays his vintage synth as a twisted, noisy horn, in a similar way to the way that Christoph Kurzmann plays his lloopp software in Vandermark’s Made to Break quartet. The 19-minute «The Thirty-Nine Steps», a homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film from 1935, captures best this quartet. Vandermark, Muche, Lehn and Blume weave organically, both individually as articulate soloists and as a close unit, a rich narrative, full of surprising and risk-taking but insightful detours that may launch Hitchcock’s protagonists to outer space, without losing its focus and the quartet’s tight dynamics. Vandermark leads also the following «Arc Shot» together with Blume and their muscular tenor sax-drums duet evokes a like-minded synth-trombone duet but soon all four musicians unite for an extraterrestrial free jazz ballad. The title of the last, short piece «Overlapping Edges» tells beautifully how the sharp, opinionated edges of this quartet built strong and massive bridges. Waiting for the next one of this great quartet.
Eyal Hareuveni | salt peanuts
german CD reviews
photo © Ingrid Hoberg
Die Kommunikation zwischen den Akteuren dieses furiosen Quartetts lässt nichts zu wünschen übrig. Die CD wurde 2021 im Kunstmuseum Bochum im Rahmen des Ruhr Jazz Festivals aufgenommen. Zuvor war das Improvisations-Ensemble auf Tournee, weshalb Interaktion und Reaktionsfreude der Crew sicher besonders stimmig von der Bühne tönen. Ken Vandermark aus Chicago (Tenorsaxophon, Klarinette) und seine deutschen Mitstreiter Matthias Muche (Posaune), Thomas Lehn (Analog-Synthesizer) sowie Bandgründer Martin Blume (Drums, Perkussion) formulieren eine figurenreiche Free Music ohne Vorgaben, bevorzugen dabei komplexe Kollektiv-Improvisationen. Ein klanglich-rhythmisch vielgestaltiger Sound, der auch durch die Synthesizer-Texturen von Lehn eine zusätzliche individuelle Note erhält. Eine Musik auch, die gekonnt zwischen Eruptionen, hochenergetischer Dichte und behutsamen, aussparenden Partien wechselt. Dramaturgisch besonders anregend der über 19-minütige Track »The Thirty Nine Steps« mit seinen dynamischen Finessen, attraktiven Metamorphosen und mit reizvoll changierendem Kolorit.
- Udo Andris | Jazzpodium June/July 2023
Soundbridges is the name of a quartet that Ken Vandermark runs with the three Germans Matthias Muche (trombone), Thomas Lehn (analog synthesizer) and Martin Blume on drums. He is, of course, a reliable quantity, and this formation also exceeds the expectations, which were never set low anyway. A furious opening - a carefully orchestrated show of force that fades away as suddenly as it broke open - leads, after a subtly percussive transition by Blume, into a delicately melancholy melody played by Vandermark on clarinet. Everything is to the point. Even Lehn's crackling interjections are absolutely comprehensible. Much is improvised, nothing seems chaotic. Anyone who has had the opportunity to observe Vandermark at a rehearsal knows how meticulously he knows how to stage this freedom. Nothing falls apart, the structure of the pieces sounds impressive, tradition and modernity are processed authentically and expertly. A brilliant final chord to an excellent festival.
Christoph Haunschmid/Andreas Fellinger | Freistil
on Soundbridges performance @ artacts Festival St. Johann i.T. March 5, 2023
Links / Biographies
Matthias Muche www.matthiasmuche.com
Martin Blume www.martinblume.com
Ken Vandermark www.kenvandermark.com
Thomas Lehn www.thomaslehn.com
photo © Wolfgang Heller - on Ottensheim Danube ferry boat^
photo © André Symann
European Tour Tue. 2 – Sat. 13 April 2024
dedicated to the quartets 2nd release, the vinyl LP the red and the blue on Austrian label Idyllic Noise
March 1 - 12, 2023 – European CD Release Tour
Wed. March 1, Schwerin @ Schleswig-Holstein-Haus / jazzwerkstatt
Thu. March 2, Berlin @ House of Music / jazzexzess
Fri. March 3, Ottensheim @ Alter Bauhof / KomA
Sat. March 4, Brescia @ Indica Festival
Sun. March 5, St. Johann i.T @ artacts Festival
Mon. March 6, Prague @ punctum
Wed. March 8, Dortmund @ Parzelle im Depot
Thu. March 9, Cologne @ Loft
Fri. March 10, Schorndorf @ Manufaktur
Sat. March 11, Bonn @ Kreuzung St. Helena / in situ
Sun. March 12, Antwerp @ TRIX / Sound in Motion
download tour flyer
Fri. September 24, 2021, Bochum @ Kunstmuseum / Ruhr-Jazzfestival
Sat. September 11 Peitz @ Festungsscheune Open Air / jazzwerkstatt Peitz 58
Fri. September 10, Dortmund @ Depot / Visual Sound Outdoor Festival
photo © Thomas Lehn
updated on September 11, 2023