The Vandermark 5, Johnny D's, February 13, 2007
The last time the Vandermark 5 performed locally was at the Artists-at-Large Gallery in Hyde Park, February 1, 2006. The quintet was then working in cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, who had replaced trombonist Jeb Bishop. At times, Lonberg-Holm was a fifth wheel, and Vandermark apologized to him for arrangements that sometimes left him hanging.
No more. At Johnny D’s on February 13, the Vandermark 5 was touring behind a spectacular new album, A Discontinuous Line (Atavistic) and Lonberg-Holm has been thoroughly worked into the equation of Vandermark’s poised balance of freedom and precision. There is plenty of free blowing in this band. Vandermark alternates baritone sax with clarinet and bass clarinet, Dave Rempis alto and tenor. They both deploy the full range of extended squawks, honks, and altissimo screeches that are the stock-in-trade of the avant-garde. But there are also tight unison themes for the ensemble, fiendish leaps among odd meters, dramatic dynamic shifts that bring the music down from a shout to a whisper in a flash. Rempis, in particular, can get a beautiful light, fluttery sound out of his alto that recalls Jimmy Giuffre when he isn’t tearing across a free rhythm like Jimmy Lyons.
Lonberg-Holm is now an integrated part of the Vandermark 5’s string section with bassist Kent Kessler. On a ballad like “Further from the Truth,” the cellist introduced the melody before the rest of the band joined in. Elsewhere, his sometimes skittery, sometimes lyrical solos were a tonic for the two heavy horns, or he bowed ostinato rhythms that allowed Kessler to range free. Meanwhile, drummer Tim Daisy ramped up dynamics and cued surprise turnarounds. As for those meters, the last tune before the encore, “Compass Shatters Magnet,” worked through various dynamic shifts (it began with Daisy rubbing his mallets against his drum heads) before settling into a furious rock groove that was nonetheless impossible to count. Familiar and tantalizingly strange. When I asked Kessler about the meter after the set, he said it was alternating bars of 7/4 and 6/4 — “rockin’ 13.”
: Live Reviews
, Jimmy Giuffre, Dave Rempis, Fred Lonberg-Holm, More