Ken Vandermark: The Color of Memory (2006)
Music is the only creative endeavour where fans spend much of their time lamenting over impermanence. There are still those who disregard any Mahavishnu Orchestra that doesn't have Jan Hammer in it or shudder at the thought of Led Zeppelin with Jason Bonham. But these fans would do well to keep in mind that Pink Floyd and the Grateful Dead are known most for later incarnations, and even Miles' second quintet and Coltrane's quartet went through changes before settling down.
It is with this in mind that I approach The Color of Memory, the most recent release by the Vandermark 5. After the wonderful energy of Elements of Style, Exercises in Surprise (Atavistic, 2004), another record from this group is certainly welcome. And especially so, after being initiated, or should I say bombarded, by the group in a live setting from the twelve-disc box set Alchemia (Not Two, 2005).
The Color of Memory, though, is bittersweet. It marks the final recorded work by the band prior to the departure of trombonist Jeb Bishop. Aficionados of the group must lament the loss of a third of the V5's exciting front line (whose other members are Vandermark and Dave Rempis on every reed imaginable). Bishop's place has been taken by no slouch in cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm (Vandermark's old buddy from the Territory Band and Chicago Tentet) and, as happened with Mahavishnu or the Dead, the music has changed as a result.
When the new lineup premiered at Tonic on January 31, they played new music written with Lonberg-Holm's arrival in mind but also drew from The Color of Memory. Initially Bishop was missed, but very quickly Vandermark's expert command made this incarnation of the Vandermark 5 different but still exciting, compelling but surprisingly rarely awkward. And let no one forget that drummer Tim Daisy and saxophonist Dave Rempis, so integral to the V5's sound, were themselves latecomers to the group.
But lineup changes aside, taken as part of the V5's extensive discography (a dozen strong now, not counting the Free Jazz Classics releases), The Color of Memory continues where Elements of Style, Exercises in Surprise left off, but with a healthy dose of the type of writing Vandermark has been bringing to the FME (with Nate McBride and Paal-Nilssen-Love). What makes people either love or hate the V5 is Vandermark's unique conglomeration of styles and composing techniques. Though one can hear why Vandermark likes Rahsaan Roland Kirk or Joe Harriott, his music is the furthest thing from derivative. A free bop honkytonk chamber ensemble is one way to put it.
But across two discs of strong material (worked out live on Alchemia but turned on its head during the Tonic performance), the continual incremental development of Vandermark as a leader and collaborator is on full display. Enjoy The Color of Memory and appreciate one of the finest bands of the past decade, but don't cry for them. Vandermark is sure not to.
Track Listing: CD1: That Was Now; Suitcase; Roadwork; Burn Nostalgia; Chance; CD2: Vehicle; Camera; Pieces of the Past.
Personnel: Ken Vandermark, Dave Rempis: reeds; Jeb Bishop: trombone; Kent Kessler: bass; Tim Daisy: drums.