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Vandermark 5: Burn the Incline

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The V5 is arguably Ken Vandermark’s most widely renowned group. Of all of the Chicago reedman’s projects it certainly has the most miles under its belt in terms of touring and the voices that round out it’s ranks are among the vanguard of the city’s still expanding creative music scene. What this adds up to in the way of studio work is a quincunx of players that is well accustomed to each other’s idiosyncratic preferences and interests. What it means in terms of the music itself is anything goes. Rock, funk, free improv, blues, soul- all the musical lineages of their adopted Windy City home- everything is tossed into the pot, sometimes even during the course of a single piece. Such an all inclusive approach can be both liberating and unexpectedly limiting.

Just check out “Distance,” the opening ode to Joe Morris for a textbook example of this quintet’s rampant eclecticism. Kessler’s opening bass solo dissolves into a wailing upper register saxophone solo, which is in turn followed closely by Bishop’s distortion-saturated guitar. The schizophrenic structure of the tune captures multiple facets for Morris’ musical personality bouncing from free improvisation to groove-fueled melody and back again. There are points where the restless, multi-sided Ping-Pong match of ideas clouds the clarity of presentation- too many hands in the proverbial cookie jar at once- but more often than not these five players pull things off and come up with a solid consensus.

Compared to the opener “Cooler,” written with pianist Pandelis Karayorgis in mind, is like a gust of fresh air forwarded on Bishop’s gelid trombone and Vandermark’s frosty bass clarinet. The breezy ballad “Late Night Wait Around” dusts off another side of the group where Cool-tinged saxophones meet spidery guitar chords over a bulbous rhythmic repast of bass and brushes. Funk hits the fan on the circular “Roulette,” dedicated to bassist Nat McBride as Mulvenna’s rhythmic suspensions goad the horns into an exclamatory round robin of gritty solos. Pieces penned in honor of William Parker, Per Henrik Wallin, Misha Mengelberg and the mysterious ‘Ex’ (whose I wonder?) follow, with “Accident Happening” (the Parker piece) yielding the most adventurous results in terms of structure and execution.

Taken in sum this offering is as good a place as any to delve into the V5’s shared esthetic and philosophy. And aside from the occasional lapse into compositional excess, which prevents several of the pieces (“Distance,” “Ground”) from holding up as well as they otherwise might, this disc hits on all cylinders delivering another absorbing entry into an already impressive roster of releases.

Tracks:Distance/ The Cooler/ Late Night Wait Around/ Roulette/ Accident Happening/ In Focus/ The Trouble Is/ Ground.

Players:Ken Vandermark- tenor saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet; Jeb Bishop- trombone & guitar; Dave Rempis- alto & tenor saxophones; Kent Kessler- bass; Tim Mulvenna- drums.

Recorded: December 9 & 10, 1999, Chicago, IL.

Atavistic on the web: http://www.atavistic.com

Record Label: Atavistic Worldwide

Style: Modern Jazz


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