The Vandermark 5

Single Piece Flow

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This, the first recording by the Vandermark 5, created a template for the next several releases by the band: relatively concise compositions alternating up-tempo burners with contemplative numbers, hewing to a post-Ornette Coleman approach that touched on free improv while essentially remaining fairly straightforward. Vandermark, who wrote all the compositions, is often at his best penning themes with surging, motoric riffs that, oddly enough, recall some of the driving pieces of early King Crimson. These songs, like the conclusion of "Careen" (dedicated to Jackie Chan!), have an irresistible momentum and are very solidly nailed together, providing a wonderful substructure for all manner of improvisation on top. The musicians are all up to the task, though it's Jeb Bishop (on trombone, especially) and Kent Kessler who are the real standouts, each adding that little extra bit of nuance and imagination to make the best numbers take off. But the "stars" of the album are the compositions themselves, probing and muscular, offering a fresh way through the stasis that was building in some circles of avant jazz by the mid-'90s. Pieces like "Data Janitor" are infused with an intense kind of rigor and drive themselves right to the brink of chaotic explosiveness before reining themselves in. This kind of "platform" proved pretty successful in luring many a rock fan into this more abstract music and served as a basis for much of Vandermark's work in upcoming years, both on his own and as a principal provider of compositions for the Peter Brötzmann Tentet. Single Piece Flow is a fine and accessible introduction to this talented musician's world.

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