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Extended Analysis

The Vandermark 5: The Color of Memory

By Published: November 12, 2005
The Vandermark 5
The Color of Memory

Close on the heels of the wondrous twelve-CD Alchemia live set, the Vandermark 5 return with a collection of studio recordings vividly displaying the glorious results of a five-year working association. Whether a subtle exercise in abstract minimalism or a hard-swinging pumped-up post bop riff, the quintet expertly traverses Vandermark's broadly informed musical landscapes.

Establishing a musical relationship superficially resembling that of John Gilmore and Marshall Allen, Vandermark and Rempis exhaust the reed options on each composition. From Tim Daisy's seamless gearshifts through time changes to Kessler's reliable grounding, the rhythm section inspires the gifted improvisers. This collection marks the final performances of V5 charter member Jeb Bishop, who is moving on. His warm, skillful, richly constructed contributions will be missed.

"Vehicle (for Magnus Broo) opens with Rempis singing subdued blue alto, followed by a swaggering ensemble arrangement fattened with Vandermark's punchy baritone expanding the rhythmic language. Bishop takes the first turn with fiery playing off the off time. Kessler keeps a straight face and Daisy entertains himself with unexpected accents. Even more muscular on baritone than tenor, Vandermark grinds the big horn with soulful ease. Rempis takes wild flight on tenor. Rempis and Bishop get close for the sparse intro to "Camera (for Edward Weston). Vandermark counterpoints on clarinet. Kessler essays a prickly arco solo. Daisy's light percussion incites bracing free improvisation from the winds. Kessler and Daisy raise a small storm for Bishop to ride. Vandermark (on bass clarinet) and Rempis (on alto) burn in duet. Rempis wails the band to the coda.

The cruising swing of "Pieces of the Past (For Joseph H. Lewis) provides a track for Bishop to run. Rempis and Vandermark square off on tenors, Rempis solos first blasting stratospheric. After a hectic Tim Daisy workout, Vandermark roars with the rhythm section, shooting sparks.

Riding in on a rhythmic cement truck, That Was Now (for the Volcano Suns) features a bone-crunching free funk jam with Rempis blowing joyfully over Tim Daisy's busy solidity, Kessler a bass beat thump. Vandermark plays a jaw-straining long tone baritone duet with Bishop, before they're snatched up by the runaway ensemble. On "Suitcase (for Ray Charles, Elvin Jones, and Steve Lacy)" Vandermark dresses the bass clarinet in a shark skin suit and flips quarters under a street light. While the rhythm section continues the cool, Vandermark melts, creating chancey variations. He takes a foggy evening Dashell Hamett walk with Kessler while Daisy understates a melodic solo. Bishop utilizes an evocative plunger technique.

Kessler does most of the running on Road Work (for Merce Cunningham). Vandermark circular breathes a drone while Daisy percolates percussion. Kessler switches to bow and the horns improvise. Vandermark gives the band a tricky chart to start "Burn Nostalgia (for Art Pepper), then he turns Rempis loose to start fires. He follows with a tenor filled with gasoline, then Bishop seals it with a hot dry wind carefully articulated. The balladic "Chance (for Nino Rota) allows a sweet mellow solo by Bishop, followed by a quick gear change with Rempis driving a mid-tempo swing on tenor. A circular arrangement ends with Kessler's bass solo.

The Color of Memory makes a fitting final chapter to the Bishop years for the V5. The first recordings of the new V5 with cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm should appear soon.

Tracks: CD1: That Was Now (for the Volcano Suns); Suitcase (for Ray Charles, Elvin Jones and Steve Lacy); Road Work (for Merce Cunningham); Burn Nostalgia (for Art Pepper); Chance (for Nina Rota). CD2: Vehicle (for Magnus Broo); Camera (for Edward Weston); Pieces of the Past (for Joseph H. Lewis).

Personnel: Jeb Bishop: trombone; Tim Daisy: drums; Kent Kessler: bass; Dave Rempis: saxophones; Ken Vandermark: reeds.

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