By my count, this is the tenth release from Ken Vandermark's quintet, the primary vehicle for his compositions, following seven previous recordings on Atavistic and two hard to find discs on Savage Sound. The V5 began with 1997's Single Piece Flow and the band has changed a bit, shedding saxophonist Mars Williams and drummer Tim Mulvenna for Dave Rempis and Tim Daisy, while Jeb Bishop put away his guitar to become one of the finest trombonists playing in America today.
Like last year's Airports For Light , this release offers a bonus disc for the first 1500 copies sold. Last year's bonus was a set of excellent Sonny Rollins covers. Here they add Free Kings - The Music Of Rahsaan Roland Kirk. While the focus is the V5's original work, their volumes of free jazz classics links today with Vandermark's forefathers, Albert Ayler, Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, Archie Shepp, Don Cherry, Sun Ra, and Julius Hemphill.
The music on the last two releases (both with drummer Tim Daisy) has settled comfortably into a signature V5 sound. Vandermark's writing and the solid front line of Dave Rempis, Vandermark, and Bishop is an easily recognizable commodity. The disc opens with "Outside Ticket," a slow burner with much confidence. While deferring to Rempis throughout, Vandermark solos several times. The low end mined on "Knock Yourself Out" makes for emotionally satisfying listening, and it's bassist Kent Kessler's dream track, as he parallels the bottoms for which the front line reaches. Their urgent take on "Telefon" plays with the hyper-bop time, pausing only to rush forward once more. The ballad "Gyllene," set in a slow tempo, features some beautiful tenor playing (is it Rempis or Vandermark?) that brings to mind Coleman Hawkins. Beauty is not banned from innovative music.
The disc ends with a rambling twenty-minute composition. Before that, there is a bit of structure-free playing on "Intagliamento." Both tracks give us great insight into V5's conceptual workings. Composed and free, just like the title suggests, "Elements of Style, Exercises In Surprise" coexist. There is an internal rhythm to Vandermark's free concepts that has a thread running through his thoroughly composed compositions.
And that makes for a recognizable signature sound.
Personnel: Jeb Bishop - Trombone; Tim Daisy - Drums; Kent Kessler - Bass; Dave Rempis - Saxophones; Ken Vandermark