The title of the Vandermark Five's Elements of Style...Exercises in Surprise refers to the tight juxtaposition of structural post-bop formalism and free jazz improvisation. The band -- Vandermark, reeds; Dave Rempis, saxophones; Kent Kessler, bass; Jeb Bishop, trombone; and Tim Daisy, drums -- offers wonderfully tight ensemble playing in every composition here. Vandermark's compositions have become knotty exercises in rhythmic interplay even in the front-line melodies. There is a gutbucket roots feel to some of the material here -- best exemplified by "Knock Yourself Out," where the horns express a soulful muscularity in the middle and lower registers as they boom out of the mix. On "Telefon," bop tempos are wound in a short head before breaking into wind-sprint saxophone and trombone solos. The wonderfully muted "Gyllene" is a warm, slow tonal piece that offers one of the most lyric and basic melodies Vandermark has ever written. It's rooted deeply in the blues, and strolls unhurriedly, as it allows the soloist to explore the skeletal frame thoroughly. There is one completely improvised way-out tune here, "Intagaliamento," and it feels out of place on this set. The album closes with "Six of One," a monster 20-plus minute composition that opens very slowly and ominously with single and duet instruments meandering. At five minutes the entire ensemble kicks in and the tune breaks wide open into an intricate exploration of post-bop, Afro-funk harmonics, and sprightly engagement and counterpoint, first between the three front-line players and then with the rhythm section. This is a solid date that offers a wide-angle view of Vandermark as this band's composer and arranger.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek