Sunday, November 05, 2006

Vandermark 5 - A Discontinuous Line (Atavistic, 2006)

Multi-reedist and composer Ken Vandermark's signature ensemble has been remarkably stable over their ten plus year existence, but recently there was a change with Fred Lonberg-Holm joining the band on cello and Jeb Bishop who played trombone and occasional guitar dropping out. This is their first disc with the new lineup but the band's core sound of both burning and abstract modal and free jazz remains unchanged. The remainder of this stalwart group is Dave Rempis on alto and tenor saxophones, Kent Kessler on bass and Tim Daisy on drums. The Vandermark 5 have been one of the most consistent recording and performing ensembles in recent jazz memory. Along with their more mainstream colleagues the Dave Holland Quintet, they show that the strong bonds of a working band can make for stronger, more coherent studio albums than collections of stars and sidemen alone. As has become his custom, many of Vandermark's compositions on this disc are dedicated to people who were or are involved in various artistic endeavors.

"La Dernier Cri (for Elliot Carter)" and "Morricone (for Sergio Leone)" show the band at their most abstract, leaving plenty of space for Lonberg-Holm's plucked and scraped cello to create soundscapes for Vandermark and Rempis to improvise quietly against. By contrast, the band engages in free jazz blowouts on two versions of the song "Convertible." The first, dedicated to designer and architect Charles Eames is the slightly tighter and tamer of the two, while to second version, dedicated to Eames wife Ray, must be considered as one of the group's finest performances. Lonberg-Holm, Kessler and Daisy lay down a rock solid foundation which allows the two saxophonists to just pin their ears back and howl. But they howl with reason and forethought, not just for the mere act of doing so. This is what makes the group so special, they remain grounded in the post bop and free jazz tradition but instead of being enslaved by that tradition they use it as the launching pad for their improvisational explorations. They act like a much needed enema for the body of jazz, cleansing the music of the warbeling crooners and posers that constipate it like so much half digested junk food. This adventurous music is recommended.

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