How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
"That Was Now," the opener on the two-disc set The Color of Memory, jumps out of the speakers, in a kick ass and take names later mode; and from the perspective of an ear that had never heard this group beforebased on this introductionit struck me as a pared-down Dixieland band pumped up on some serious steroids and a whole bunch of caffeine.
The Vandermark 5 is one of reedman Ken Vandermark's many artistic outlets, featuring Vandermark on reeds (clarinet, bass clarinet, alto saxophone, and there may be more; he and Rempis stretch each ax to its sonic limits, making identification difficult), plus Tim Daisy, drums; Kent Kessler, bass; Dave Rempis, saxophones; and Jeb Bishop, trombone.
Full of fierce rawnesssqualling woodwinds and truculent trombone, squawks and honks and howlsthe sounds they create on this opening tune seem designed to weed out the faint of heart. There are interludes, taken out of context, that might be called "noise." Indeed, a person of tender years and incurious ears, on a drift through my listening room, called it just that. She should have stuck around...
The sonic seas are calmer on "Suitcase," a loose groove, boppish almost, with some nice bass clarinet/trombone interplay, beautifully "out there," while "Road Work" has a minimalist sound, leading into "Burn Nostalgia (for Art Pepper)," which doesn't sound like Art Pepper's music at all, unless you count the intensity level, which cranks that quality up to a frenetic Pepper squared sound.
In the best possible way, The Color of Memory feels unrehearsed and spontaneous, composed sections juxtaposed with long stretches of fearless, rowdy improvisation. The longest piece here, "Camera (For Edward Weston"), evolves over nearly nineteen minutes from a drifting, lugubrious dirge to a gloriously obstreporous romp.
As new experience, The Color of Memory took a few spins to digest. But it proved a very nourishing meal, the discovery of the year for this listener, a revelation.
Track Listing: 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.