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The Vandermark 5

Since his arrival in Chicago in 1989, acclaimed reedist Ken Vandermark has been a linchpin in the city's improvised and avant-jazz music scene. In fact, he can be partially credited with resuscitating that scene, which was in serious decline in the early '90s. After working in ten different projects during the first half of the decade, Vandermark founded his celebrated Vandermark 5 ensemble in 1996. The group also features saxophonist Dave Rempis, trombonist Jeb Bishop, drummer Tim Mulvenna, and bassist Kent Kessler.

On both their landmark 1997 debut, Single Piece Flow and blistering 1998 follow-up, Target or Flag, The Vandermark 5 steered a thrilling course of musical growth that walked a delicate line between free jazz chaos and more traditional jazz forms.

In 1999, Rempis replaced original sax player Mars Williams and the revamped quintet issued Simpatico (featuring "Vent"). That effort finds Vandermark directing his musicians towards surprising new musical territory that incorporates elements of funk and R&B into the band's free jazz/hard bop style. The music is infused with a seductive noirish atmosphere that keeps the group's sound accessible, even during its most extreme left-field wanderings.

In 2000, the V5 returned with yet another record, Burn the Incline (featuring "The Cooler"). The stakes are even higher here. Vandermark's saxophone and clarinet parts are sensational in their detail and precision, while the rest of the ensemble has only grown tighter and more sophisticated. The band wanders up Everest-like peaks of outrageous, electrifying improvisation that makes your hair stand on end and your spine turn to jelly, then back down into valleys of warm, seductive reverie.

The band's delicious fifth album, 2001's Acoustic Machine, displays similar eclecticism and dynamism. Vandermark's skills as a composer continue to grow in leaps and bounds with each release. The record is conceived as a series of homages to artists influential to Vandermark's musical development: composers Morton Feldman, Archie Shepp, Elvin Jones, Julius Hemphill, Stan Getz, Lester Young, and photographers Robert Capa and William Klein. The featured "License Complete," dedicated to avant-garde sax great (and World Saxophone Quartet founder) Hemphill, is an energizing R&B-inspired number laced with a bit of funk.

The Vandermark 5's breathtaking eclecticism and unparalleled talent makes the group a true giant in the world of contemporary jazz.