Reed wizard Ken Vandermark and his illustrious collaborators, trombonist Jeb Bishop, drummer Tim Daisy, bassist Kent Kessler, and saxophonist Dave Rempis, have little left to prove; with a series of memorable recordings and stirring live performances, the Vandermark 5 have already established themselves as a pivotal part of the current Chicago avant jazz scene. But their latest album, Elements of Style, Exercises in Surprise, shows no signs of Vandermark and company resting on their laurels. It is an engaging and energetic effort that combines excellent ensemble rapport with ardent soloing.
Each of the seven Vandermark compositions on the album is dedicated to a specific person (or, in the case of "Six of One," six people). The polyrhythmic construction and hot saxophone solos of "Outside Ticket" recall their dedicatee, the late John Gilmore, most famous as saxophonist for the Sun Ra Arkestra. "Knock Yourself Out," dedicated to the late artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, combines a funky ostinato with angular solos; Vandermark and Rempis skronk with abandon in a fiery free jazz style. Equally florid, although a bit cleaner in tonal quality, is Vandermark's solo on "Telefon," a piece dedicated to the late pianist, Bach specialist, and avid telephone conversationalist Glenn Gould.
More contemplative is "Intagliamento," which features some poignant and bluesy playing from Bishop as well as intriguing and subtle percussive fills from Daisy. "Strata" includes dazzling ensemble passages, offset by Daisy's vigorous drumming and blindingly fast bass lines from Kessler. Perhaps most impressive is the twenty-minute long suite "Six of One," skillfully arranged to show off each group member's considerable skills, as well as the almost extrasensory ensemble interplay that has become the Vandermark 5's stock in trade.
1. Outside Ticket
2. Knock Yourself Out
7. Six of One