Monday, February 11, 2008

The Vandermark 5 - Beat Reader (Atavistic, 2008)

The Vandermark 5's latest release continues their tradition of frenetic improvisation interspersed with slower more abstract songs, all dedicated to fellow musicians and artists. After going through some changes a few years ago, the personnel in the band has stabilized with leader Ken Vandermark and Dave Rempis on saxophones, Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello, Kent Kessler on bass and Tim Daisy on drums. Two very powerful uptempo compositions begin the disc, "Friction" and "New Acrylic" have intense saxophone soloing prodded along by powerful drumming. Lonberg-Holm is the secret weapon of the band, his electrified cello sounds completely original and the sawing, scraping sounds create a cacophony of wonderful noise. More subdued are the reflective pieces of music like "Any Given Number" and "Compass Shatters Magnet" which use abstraction in an artistic, nearly visual manner. The latter takes on a mournful hue, as it is dedicated to the late Paul Rutherford. I've always wondered how Vandermark chose his dedicatees, and how the particular compositions developed with those people in mind. "Speedplay" with it's deep gravelly tenor saxophone and snarling Hendrixian cello solo and the riff-heavy "Desireless" take the album out on a very high note. It's another feather in the cap of one of the finest bands in contemporary music.

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