Given the title and dedication of the Vandermark 5's 2006 issue A Discontinuous Line, with two of its pieces being dedicated to architects/filmmakers Charles and Ray Eames ("Convertible, Version One" and "Convertible, Version Two" respectively), and other discontinuous line musicians, architects, and artists such as the late Philip Wilson, Elliot Carter, Sergio Leone, Giorgio de Chirico, Walker Evans, and the great Santiago Calatrava, it is compelling to examine the music along these parameters. Ken Vandermark's writing has grown more formal in recent years, with the places for improvisation marked out. Here, the compositions themselves breathe more, the lines are looser and based on rhythmic ideas and feel rather than formalist notions. Thus, the first "Convertible" piece sounds, upon first hearing, like a loosely conceived improvisation, but the way lines come out of the rhythm section and then the horns, is remarkable because nothing could be further form the truth. Rhythm is the very place of generation; this is true on both "Convertibles," as it were, but that generation follows a harmonic idea from start to finish, and the edgy improvisation inside that idea has the capability of expanding it into another sonic universe heard only by the players as they make the music. The tough, Monk-like swing at the genus of "Reciprocal" has its own way of cracking its own spine to allow for minor-key improvisation on the bass clarinet by Vandermark, who examines the melodic notion from all sides and creates a new one as the piece continues to move and even swing in places. Also, Fred Lonberg-Holm's cello adds not only to the rhythm section, but acts as an engaged rhythmic improviser on whom contrapuntal ideas are regularly juxtaposed against or bounced off until complex, "free" improvisation takes hold of the unit. Monk's persona once more enters the corpus of the Vandermark 5's rigorous playfulness on "Aperture," where a bluesy swinging theme is held by Vandermark's baritone and Kent Kessler's bass until Lonberg-Holm enters to bridge the two, and then it's Dave Rempis on the alto that flies loose of the melody, understanding its modality enough, and its rhythm, to strut off the ledge and seek. This is another remarkable set by the Vandermark 5, a unit that plays together now so effortlessly, even with new addition of Lonberg-Holm, whose manners bring colors and textures to this deliciously and deliriously joyful yet utterly complex music; he's a welcome addition. A Discontinuous Line is full of them, but that's where the listener comes in, to move the music further in discourse by taking it in.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek