People always asked why Grateful Dead fans used to tour with the band; the answer was that they never played the same show twice. This box-set recording of the Vandermark 5's five-night stand at the Alchemia Club in Krakow, Poland last March does not quite live up to that high standard, but it does offer a rare glimpse at a working band, well, working.
Recorded by the Polish label Not Two Records, Alchemia is a sprawling, expansive twelve-CD set covering all five nights of the group's residency, plus two sets of jam sessions with a couple of local musicans: the bass and drums-playing Olés brothers (de facto rhythm section for Not Two).
Apart from the two jam session discs, the band plays 31 different songs, only two more than three times. That makes for quite a bit of variety in material. The tunes are drawn primarily from the group's last two records, Elements of Style, Exercises in Surprise and Airports for Light. There are a few selections from the earlier albums Acoustic Machine and Burn the Incline as well as three tunes (the ones most played) from the forthcoming The Color of Memory, released this month. Given how strong Vandermark 5 records are, the opportunity to hear so many live interpretations is exciting.
Where the box set and the band excel, however, is the cover material, drawn from limited edition Free Jazz Classics series and encompassing players like Archie Shepp, Don Cherry, Sonny Rollins, Ornette Coleman, and Cecil Taylor, plus heaps full of tasty Roland Kirk. As good a writer as Vandermark is, his arranging skills might even be stronger, and he has a scholar's knowledge of underappreciated players like Kirk.
Of course certain sets are better than others; certain versions are more successful. But getting to see this variance is special. Also, the two discs of mostly free improvistions with the Olés Brothers are worth careful attention. That and the exhaustive booklet includedthis is the era of the boxsetwhich offers further elucidation of Vandermark and his genius.
Track Listing: CD1 (Day One: Monday, March 15, 2004, Set One, 58:10) Telefon; Other Cuts;
Strata; Free King's Suite.
CD2 (Day One: Monday, March 15, 2004, Set Two, 58:09) Outside Ticket; Money Down;
Camera; Roulette; Cruz Campo; The Black And Crazy Blues.
CD3 (Day Two: Tuesday, March 16, 2004, Set One, 57:51) Confluence; Rip Rig And Panic
Suite; Camera; Both Sides; Knock Yourself Out.
CD4 (Day Two: Tuesday, March 16, 2004, Set Two, 65:25) The Cooler; That Was Now; Six
Of One; Silverlization/Volunteered Slavery; There Is The Bomb.
CD5 (Day Three: Wednesday, March 17, 2004, Set One, 48:25) That Was Now; Seven Puls
Five; The Bridge; Gyllene; Auto Topography.
CD6 (Day Three: Wednesday, March 17, 2004, Set Two, 72:25) The Freedom Suite, Part 2;
Telefon; Initials; Camera; Other Cuts; The Black And Crazy Blues; Knock Yourself Out.
CD7 (Day Four: Thursday, March 18, 2004, Set One, 50:05) Money Down; Inflated Tear;
Wherever June Bugs Go; Camera; Cruz Campo.
CD8 (Day Four: Thursday, March 18, 2004, Set Two, 62:24) Pieces Of The Past; That Was
Now; Long Term Fool; Strata; Silverlization/Volunteered Slavery; The Bridge.
CD9 (Day Five: Friday, March 19, 2004, Set One, 53:53) Conquistador, Part 2; Knock
Yourself Out; Pieces Of The Past; Camera; Cruz Campo.
CD10 (Day Five: Friday, March 19, 2004, Set Two, 79:16) That Was Now; Gyllene; Telefon;
Ken's Final Remarks; Six Of One; Other Cuts; The Black And Crazy Blues.
CD11 (Jam Session One: Wednesday, March 17, 2004, 60:25) Free Jam 1; Free Jam 2; Free
Jam 3; East Broadway Run Down, Elephantasy/Complete Communion; Theme For
Alchemia; Bemsha Swing.
CD12 (Jam Session Two: Thursday, March 18, 2004, 65:56) Round Trip; Free Jam 5; Free
Jam 6; Togo; Lonely Woman.
Personnel: Dave Rempis: saxophones; Ken Vandermark: reeds; Jeb Bishop: trombone; Tim Daisy:
drums; Kent Kessler: double bass; Marcin Oles: double bass (CD11, CD12); Bartlomiej Brat
Oles: drums (CD11, CD12).