The Vandermark 5, Elements Of Style, Exercises In Surprise

Dylan Hicks

By Dylan Hicks

on 04.22.11 in Reviews
A recipient of the “Genius Grant” demonstrates why he got it.,

Working groups always have the edge over ad-hoc and short-term combos in the je ne sais quoi sweepstakes, as further evidenced by Chicago reedman-composer Ken Vandermark's principal outlet, a simpatico little band with big-band amplitude. Honed by frequent touring and a weekly house gig, the 5 seems to be of one, able mind, whether playing squeaky, Anthony Braxton-style minimalism ("Intagliamento"), or digging into funk more out of Zappa than JB ("Knock Yourself Out"), or a plaintive ballad ("Gyllene"), or an extended free-and-composed collage ("Six of One"). Vandermark was once the recipient of a McArthur "genius" grant, and maybe they were right: On this album, recorded with a rare paucity of reverb, his tunes show an equal appreciation of Ornette and Ellington, and though he can get as noisy and atonal as the next free-jazz genius, he has a gift for making experimentalism approachable.