January 2006

Vandermark 5
January 28, 2006The Music GalleryToronto
The Fresh Smell of Jazz
by Joyce Corbett with photo by Roger Humbert

I was just going out to hear some music: no writing involved. I experienced the music, I thought about the music, and I bathed in its aftermath. With no supporting notes, I decided to report on it anyway. Why? Because Vandermark 5 is compelling.

Ken Vandermark’s jazz is liberating for both audience and performers. By the time his pieces are recorded or performed they have been thoroughly ingested so that what the public hears is the exploration of the composition. A Vandermark 5 performance requires active listening because the musicians experiment with the pieces and recreate them as we listen.

The music is full of tussles and wrestling matches, it veers off into tangents and sometimes threatens to crash. But with muscular mastery, the quintet always manages to exert the right amount of control. Vandermark 5 offers the audience the thrill of speed, the singular sensuality of the saxophone and the frenzied anxiety of the contemporary cello. Abrupt spaces surprise and barely audible sounds erupt into breaking walls of sound.

Despite the above, this is not esoteric music exclusively for hard-core jazzers. The music does rest on underlying compositions, shares some sensibilities with contemporary classical music and can get downright funky. It does not rely on the obvious pattern of head or melody followed by soloist after soloist. Most of the time when one instrument pulls out front, the rest stay in with rhythm, counter-rhythm, complementary or contrasting themes somehow fitting together while going off in different directions.

Frank Zappa said, “Jazz isn’t dead, it just smells funny”. I say Ken Vandermark and the Quintet prove that Jazz is vital and can smell fresh.

Ken Vandermark (2004)
Vandermark 5
Ken Vandermark | baritone sax, clarinet, bass clarinet
Tim Daisy | drums
Kent Kessler | double bass
Dave Rempis | tenor and alto saxes
Fred Lonberg-Holm | electric cello


We welcome your comments and feedback
Joyce Corbett
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Roger Humbert
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The Live Music Report

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