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 Title:               Escalator

 By:                  Ken Vandermark, Klaus Kugel, Mark Tokar

​ Released:       2017

 Format:          CD

 Catalog No:    MW 963-2
EAN:               5906395187225

 Price:             12 EUR

Escalator by Ken Vandermark, Klaus Kugel & Mark Tokar album cover


1) 13 lines

2) Automatic Suite

3) Flight

4) Rough Distance

5) End Numbers



Ken Vandermark - tenor saxophone and clarinet

Mark Tokar - bass

Klaus Kugel - drums

Recorded at the Alchemia club in Krakow on May 5th 2016

What the critics say:

One of Vandermark’s European bands is this trio, itself called “Escalator” with German drummer Kugel and Ukranian Tokar on bass.  Together they make a formidable team. This is one of two recent live set releases by Polish label NotTwo and represents everything grand about Vandermark today.   Vandermark’s massive sound—whether punk-jazz density on tenor or flashy upper-register clarinet—drives the trio, eliciting steady, dense accompaniment from the 2-man rhythm section.  Vandermark is known for taking a phrase and repeating it, sometimes with variation, sometimes not, and allowing the bass or drums to do wild things underneath.  That happens here in spades, as they slash and burn through these tunes.  Not for everyone, but awesome contemporary freedom for those who can take it.


(review courtesy of  Carl Pearson, Jazz Director WFHB Bloomington, IN  USA)


The music on this excellent album was created by a highly combustible trio consisting of Ken Vandermark on tenor saxophone and clarinet, Mark Tokar on bass and Klaus Kugel on drums and percussion. This album was recorded at the Alchemia Club in Krakow in May of 2016 and begins with "13 Lines" which blasts hard right out of the gate, with Vandermark's expressive saxophone holding court with the elastic bass and drums. They proceed into an epic blowout of collective improvisation, moving massive slabs of sound and developing a hypnotic gaze. There are long low tones of reed to open "Automatic Suite" which moves through several layers, swirling with gentle percussion and chimes giving way to shrieks of clarinet, with fractured rhythm refracting the music in all directions like a funhouse mirror. Vandermark moves back to tenor saxophone as the music deepens like an industrial machine that grinds relentlessly forward. The music becomes fast, deep and muscular, punctuated by growls and roars of saxophone. Supportive bass and drums are simpatico with the torrid saxophone, cracking like a weak levee and allowing a massive wall of improvisation to pour forth. "Flight" develops a very interesting texture with raw toned bowed bass sweeping across the landscape of the music, with saxophone joining at a similar pitch creating an alarming and unnerving sound. The trio comes together to create a fascinating mix, investigating the universe of free improvisation at light speed. Thick and fast bass and drums fuel "Rough Distance" with Vandermark adding a low and guttural saxophone which steams ahead full bore. There is a gleeful exchange of ideas, led by deep bellows of gruff saxophone, and the music is wild, yet coherent as the drums and bass open a fascinating rhythm which results in cascading waves of sound engulfing the listener. The finale, "End Numbers," has more abstract bowed bass with percolating saxophone and drums. They gradually develop a drone that makes excellent fodder for the impending burst of improvisation. There is a rich textural sound with raw peals of saxophone, that builds energy through repetition. The group builds to a rippling improvisation, reveling in the freedom of choice that is available. Everything flows organically as the music gradually proceeds to its conclusion. There is great empathy between the musicians themselves, and between the group and the music on this album. This is one of the most exciting album that I have heard this year, there is constant joy to be found in the bracing interaction of these musicians.

review courtesy of Tim Niland and


This album, recorded at the Alchemia Club in Krakow, Poland, May 5th 2016. Reedist Ken Vandermark who needs not a too thorough introduction here on FJB, is here heard with Klaus Kugel on drums and percussion and Mark Tokar on double bass.

German drummer and percussionist Kugel is a veteran in modern jazz that can be heard on more than fifty albums since the early nineties. He’s played with everyone from Peter Evans to William Parker to Jemeel Moondoc. He’s been in Theo Jörgensmann Quartet, Switchback and Baltic Trio. It’s an exhausting discography, and I must admit I have a lot of homework and a lot of exciting listening to do when it comes to Kugel.

Bassist Mark Tokar from Ukraine is at least for me most known for his work with Vandermark on the majestic 10 CD box ‘Resonance’. I’m very keen on hearing him with Martin Küchen and Arkadijus Gotesmanas on their Live at Vilnius Jazz Festival album released on No Business Records. Writing this I’m realizing that they do have digital options to purchase on their website. I’ll go get it right now.

Anyway, back to Escalator.

The album starts off the ’13 songs’. I can listen to the first seconds of this song 1000 times and still get a smile on my face every time. Ken and Mark start the song with a bluesy, swinging intro. I close my eyes and sink into the good feeling of a nice groove. But then Kugel joins in at a blistering pace. He’s on a different planet. It’s such a great dissonance, and done with such a delicacy that it just makes me very happy. Tokar gets lured over to join, but Vandermark is not yet done. He’s determined to keep on swinging, albeit with bursts of energy here and there. Eventually Ken too is ready to let it all out there and together they charge onwards to end the song. What a start of an album!

‘Automatic Suite’, a 15 minute more free and improvised performance. It has drummer Kugel using a wider set of equipment to accompany his friends. Vandermark who’s working closely together with Tokar. Ken introduces a 3-note ticking beat, but it’s only heard twice – and in between free excursions away from the theme. Ken then changes the direction with a thumping beat of doom and gloom. I immediately draw a line to Mingus ‘Better get hit in your soul’ which theme fits well on top of the beat, at least in my head. I can’t help it, it just keeps repeating. I even expect it to come in from a mysterious fourth member on stage at the Alchemia Club, but of course it doesn’t. Instead Ken keeps changing the melody around while the steady beat keeps playing in the background. I’m waiting for the fireworks to happen and for the song to move into another dimension but that doesn’t happen. Not to worry, there’s more to come on this album!

Third song, ‘Flight’. This part of the review is actually also written on a flight, between Frankfurt and London, after a 4 a.m. wake-up in Turin, Italy. I must admit, although I’m not at all scared of flying – the sounds heard in this song is not what I would want to hear during a flight… Metallic pieces are flying through the air, and what used to be a coherent “something” is now a dispersed swarm of “something else”. There’s an urgency and intensity throughout the seven minutes this one lasts for. I like it.

Two more songs to go. ‘Rough Distance’ and ‘End Numbers’. On the first one there’s another change in character. It’s a longer improvised track, over 13 minutes. We’re back to hearing how Ken twists and turns melodies around. I’d say it’s a typical “Ken-track”. He’s moving effortless through structures and emotions, but there seems to always be a clear and propelling force onwards and forward. Halfway through, the rhythm section provides a change, a break, while Vandermark gets a bit of rest to bring on the remaining minutes of madness until it’s over.

The final performance of this album takes us to a dark place. Searching sounds, something is sort of boiling beneath the surface. This starts off as a lonely song, again with Vandermark getting great support from Kugel and Tokar. But the song develops into celebration and swing and we’re left feeling grateful to have heard yet another great release with Vandermark.

In summary, this is a Vandermark trio album, and what a competent trio it is. I can only assume the audience left the concert very pleased with that they just heard. Oh, Ken Vandermark, your output is generous and quality is always very high. Thank you.


(review courtesy Gustav Lindquist and




“Escalator” is the newest album played by three great avant-garde jazz masters Ken Vandermark, Klaus Kugel and Mark Tokar. The album was released this week by “NotTwo Records”. The musicians of the trio are very well-known for all who are interested in free jazz – it’s Ken Vandermark (tenor sax, clarinet), Klaus Kugel (drums, percussion) and Mark Tokar (double bass). These musicians are famous for original and unique playing style, innovative and expressive improvising, effective and interesting sound of their compositions. During the years of creative activity they had recorded numerous albums with various ensembles and avant-garde jazz legends such as Peter Brotzmann, Paal Nilssen-Love, Joe Morris, Ab Baas, Joe McPhee, Lasse Marhaug and many others. Their improvisations are based on avant-garde jazz and modern jazz styles synthesis. The most part of the albums are full of live, free and dynamic sound compositions. The compositions of “Escalator” were recorded at “Alchemia Club” in Krokow in 2016.


The album has 5 compositions which is based on avant-garde jazz elements. Free, live and expressive collective improvisations also have modern jazz elements – monotonic and fast rhythmic, sharp harmony and very fast and virtuosic solos. The elements of bebop, post-bop and avant-garde jazz synthsis together in one composition. Improvisations are full of different musical expressions and sound experiments. The musicians try out new and innovative playing techniques, their melodies are very fast, emotional, virtuosic and expressive. Masterful solos, full of very fast virtuosic pasages, blow outs and other elements are the main element of the compositions. The variety of strange and peculiar timbres and sounds is also very important part of improvisations because it makes the sound of compositions even more interesting and effective. The improvisations of this album are very dynamic and contrastic with each other – episodes based on different modern and avant-garde jazz styles are combined together. The sound is very dynamic and constantly changing – fast, active, rigorous and sharp collective improvisations suddenly turns out to calm and slow episodes there double bass is heard very much. Subtle and dynamic double bass melodies, various sounds of percussion and slow saxophone melodies are the main elements of these episodes. So this music is full of surprises and stylistic waves – live, active, innovative and expressive improvisations of great avant-garde jazz masters create interesting and modern sound of these compositions.


(review courtesy of

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