The Vandermark Five
Elements of Style, Exercises in Surprise
I am not nearly learned enough in the realms of free jazz to offer any insight into The Vandermark Five’s latest release, but I’m still completely in awe of it. Elements of Style, Exercises in Surprise straddles the line between avant-garde musical themes and classic bop stylings courtesy of the quintet’s three part lead section (trombone, saxophone and various reeds). Many of the tracks cycle through tight swing and abstract formlessness before running their course. Particularly impressive are “Intagliamento” and “Telefon,” where in the midst of freak-out soloing, the music drops out almost entirely. The ensuing moments of silence-as-music that create tension from non-existent building blocks are phenomenal.
While the band’s experimental tendencies yield entrancing results, the most engaging track on the album is its most straightforward. On “Knock Yourself Out,” the centerpiece rhythm is a choice piece of low-end heavy, punchy bop. The song steps out of its funk groove only twice: the first for a manic saxophone solo atop a slow scale ascension, and the second comes as a spotlight on the understated rhythm section. It’s fantastic.
Elements of Style… is the type of album that’s enjoyable as a novice jazz listener, but also one which offers much more to scholarly ears. I look forward to coming back to this disc as I become more acquainted with the genre and getting progressively blown away.