Thursday, December 18, 2008


The Vandermark 5, Beat Reader (Atavistic)

Ken Vandermark’s mugshot ought to accompany the definition of “restless” in your Colliers or your OED. In jazz terms, he’s as promiscuous as they come, leaping from project to project, starting new bands, resurrecting old ones. – one-offs, touring ensembles, tributes, film music, intriguing collaborations… If it’s adventurous, he’s game. Once the tally is complete, I expect he’ll have released hundreds of recordings. But for better than a decade, he’s always returned to the Vandermark 5. That any working jazz unit has endured today’s climate for eleven years is truly remarkable; that it has managed to hold Vandermark’s interest is miraculous. There have been lineup changes, of course, but the core dictum of pushing free music in all directions has remained undisturbed. The V5, as it currently stands, is the exciting Dave Rempis on alto and tenor saxophone, Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello and electronics, Kent Kessler on bass, Tim Daisy on drums, and Vandermark, who here sticks to the low end of the register, playing baritone sax and clarinet. It’s a good choice, because he spends much of Beat Reader’s 69 minutes exploiting the guttural qualities of the baritone to an effect similar to his work on Bridge 61’s (excellent) 2006 release Journal, which is to say that a lot of the time the thing flat-out rocks. Vandermark’s gift is his combinatory approach; simply, his palette is larger that most. Punk, rock and funk are as ripe for pillaging as are blues, jazz, classical, what have you. This inclusiveness is what has always marked the great Vandermark 5 releases (Single Piece Flow, Target or Flag, A Discontinuous Line), and here it means that the quintet veer from spastic energy to containment and austerity in the blink of an eye. They are simultaneously controlled and unhinged; propulsive and passive, as appropriate. Lonberg-Holm’s cello is capable of centering the proceedings in a way that Jeb Bishop’s guitar could not. Similarly, Rempis’ tenor pushes things further into the funk realm. All in all, it is what we have come to expect from the V5: more of everything, the world in an hour. I wouldn’t dare slight Ken Vandermark for his restlessness and his creative hyperactivity. It simply results in too much incredible music. But I do hope he always calls the Vandermark 5 home.

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