In their early days, the Vandermark 5 gave founder and reed man Ken Vandermark, the opportunity to workshop and road test fresh ideas. His writing skills have now been honed to such an extent that he is one of the most consistently inventive small group composers around, and the V5 has become one of the great working bands on the current scene. For its eighteenth, outing the quintet is expanded to a seven-piece Special Edition, with the addition of trumpeter Magnus Broo and pianist Håvard Wiik from Scandinavian super group Atomic.
There's one new number"Nameless"on this double-CD live recording from Chicago's Green Mill, otherwise it's a mixture of V5 favorites from its last three albums, including four tracks from Annular Gift (Not Two, 2010), along with single pieces from Broo and Wiik. Ranging between 10 and 15 minutes, all the cuts have ample space for the V5's customary mix of artfully constructed charts framing intense improvisations.
The guests extend and thicken the ensembles; while well-integrated they are used judiciously. Wiik adds provocative commentary with his restless comping as well as splendid outings full of clanging dissonance, while Broo's incisive trumpet burns incandescent throughout. Typically fine soloing enhances each cut. Saxophonist Dave Rempis is as proficient on baritone as on alto, moving fluently from stentorian yodeling to supercharged cries, while the leader ranges from impassioned tenor saxophone to resonant clarinet multiphonics. On cello Fred Lonberg-Holm dramatically increases the options available, whether walking his axe like a dainty bass, bowing propulsive riffs, or hitting the front with swirling electronically modified skronk. Tim Daisy is one of the most European of American drummers, adding an intriguing timbral dimension to his already acute rhythmic acumen. Resolutely anchoring the whole is bassist Kent Kessler, who nonetheless provides almost vocalized arco sweeps on "Early Color."
"Friction," culminating in an exciting morass of darting horn lines over the theme, starts the first CD on a high and there is no let up thereafter. Broo's "New Weather" is fast changing but stormy, while Wiik's "Green Mill Tilter"which is also featured on Atomic's fine Theater Tilters (Jazzland, 2010)opens with a lurching fanfare before a series of settings for puckish muted trumpet, the composer's jazzy piano and Rempis' muscular baritone. Highlights come thick and fast but the closing sequence on the second CD deserves special mention with driving renditions of "Early Color" and "Cement" leading up to "Nameless," the longest track on both discs, which rings multiple changes before another anthemic climax.
While perhaps slightly less tightly plotted than regular V5 releases, the extended lineup more than compensates in terms of visceral clout. Even those already familiar with the repertoire will appreciate the new angles afforded here. Newcomers might receive a more concentrated hit from regular V5 sets, but are still likely to be knocked out by this one.
CD1: Friction; Some Not All; New Weather; Second Marker; Cadmium Orange; CD2: Green Mill Tilter; Desireless; Early Color; Cement; Nameless.
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