Vermont’s Boxholder Records is quickly becoming one of the premier labels for creative improvised music. It was only last year that the label issued its first recording but already Boxholder has released the work of such masters as Bill Cole, Joe McPhee, and William Parker. Tripleplay’s Expansion Slang is a fine addition to this catalog.
Ken Vandermark is by far the best known member of Tripleplay. He has recorded extensively as both a leader and a sideman and last year the MacArthur Foundation gave Vandermark one of their prestigious, and very financially lucrative, genius awards. Neither bassist Nate McBride or drummer Curt Newton have the reputation of Vandermark but both have played and recorded in various settings and have musical relationships with Vandermark that span over a decade. All that said, this is very much a trio recording with McBride, Newton, and Vandermark all contributing more or less equally to the music. Vandermark wrote three of the disc’s five cuts and it is on these tracks that he engages in some of his most extravagant soling while at the same time showing that he has not forgotten tradition. In this sense, he sounds like Don Byron because his playing can be wild and cover a lot of ground while at the same time clearly displaying its roots.
More satisfying are the two cuts that come from the pen of McBride. "Daka Du" opens with a slightly more than two minute long bass solo from McBride which is appropriate since he wrote the tune. From there, the track is a slow ballad where the three play with equal weight and feed off one another. Newton combination of cymbals and toms is particularly good here and shows just how melodic a drummer can be. "Hook and Ladder" has a clarinet in the hands of Vandermark and once again he sounds like Don Byron. Newton gets a short yet impressive solo in this meandering cut but the real star has to be McBride whose bass creates loud booms that perfectly punctuate the playing of his band mates.
Tripleplay recorded these tracks in April of 1998 and in the linear notes from this past February, Vandermark alludes to the group having developed significantly since then. Hopefully we will get to hear that development in future releases.