Vandermark 5 – Elements of Style, Exercises in Surprise (Atavistic, 2004)
The latest album from the Vandermark 5 continues their usual style of original Vandermark compositions dedicated to musicians or artists that have influenced him. I wish I knew more about his compositional style – in what way these artists have affected him and what role they play in the individual compositions. The dedicatees are in parentheses.
"Outside Ticket" (John Gilmore) has a nice up-tempo opening with some very interesting collective and individual soloing. Considering the time Sun Ra spent in Chicago and the influence of Ra on many of Vandermark's ensembles, it's a wonder what took him so long to write a tribute to Sun Ra's primary soloist. "Yourself Out" (Jean-Michel Basquiat) has a funky opening from the horns which evolves into a free improve and drops back into the funky theme with some funky trombone and tenor saxophone interplay and finally a trombone solo.
Interagliamento (Zu) has a slow percussive opening and then the horns kick in in a fragmented way – there is a lot of space for the instrumentalists to use in their slowly building piece of music. It's interesting that he should dedicate this particular composition to the band Zu who joined Spaceways Inc. on their record Radiale earlier this year. Zu's music is much more upbeat then this slowly developing composition. "Telefon" (Glen Gould) cranks the action back up to a brisk tempo with a fast paced free-bop solo. There's a break at the 2:30 mark which slows things down to a snails pace, but then things pick back up with the horns re-entering in unison to finish the song. "Guyllen" slows things down with an attractive mid-tempoed theme. There's a pretty spare tenor solo over light timekeeping.
"Strata" has a fast paced fragmented theme with a free sounding solo from Vandermark. Jeb Bishop gets a nice solo on trombone with the saxophones giving chase and the bass and drums keep a fast paced beat. A slow drum break in the middle turns into a full-fledged drum solo, which morphs back into a louder free section for the band, Vandermark getting a deep-toned sound on his tenor saxophone. "Six of One" ends the disc in epic fashion – this 20 minute piece starts slowly with a bass intro joined by a space and slowly building percussion solo. Vandermark comes in at the 4:30 mark with the rest of the band. This isn't an off the wall free blowing piece, the band stays within boundaries. There's a break for an abstract solo saxophone improvisation at the 12 minute mark. The solo is a bit fractures so the music loses a little momentum. Other instruments rejoin and the pace begins to quicken, slowly speeding up to close with a frenetic pace.
There are a couple of reviews and some discussion of this CD in the Jazzcorner Speakeasy "Record Reviews" section. People seemed to be a little underwhelmed by this disc – there seems to be an undercurrent of ho hum, another V5 disc. But the band operates at a very high level, and I don't think the faint praise with which they are damned is warranted. This group is still a very formidable ensemble and as they show with this disc, they are still quite capable of making interesting and exciting music.
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