Vandermark 5 : Four Sides To The Story



Released by: Vandermark 5 [view band]
Record Label: Not Two
Year released: 2006
Release format: Limited Edition Double Vinyl LP

Look in front of you or behind you, toward what’s next or back at what’s happened?

Working on this music can be an odd pursuit.  On one hand, there is an attempt to “move forward,” to find different ways to structure music (whether with pre-composed materials or with new improvisational strategies) in order to keep the process of creativity in motion.  There’s also a need to develop alternative methods of organization to make sure that there’s another gig to play after the one at hand: in order to advance the music’s design, help cultivate an audience, and pay the rent.  On the other hand, it is frequently necessary to “look backward.”  It’s important to review recorded documents, complete projects, prepare the next steps based on where you may have been before.  In my case, without question, I would prefer to focus on “what’s next.”  I like to record, but I hate to mix; I’d rather be working on a new composition than trying to rehearse an old one; I’d rather be playing a gig rather than talk about one.

However, even I need to admit that there are circumstances when studying past work can be exceptionally helpful.  For a variety of reasons the connection between the Vandermark 5 and Alchemia in Krakow has provided rare opportunities to look at where that band has been and where it may be going.  The box set of recordings that Not Two released in 2005 was a watershed for the group, most likely it shall be the best example that exists of how the band worked and played night after night.  In addition, that collection of music also included what would turn out to be some of the final statements that Jeb Bishop made with the group.  The album, The Color Of Memory, recorded some months after the box set would mark the end of his tenure with the quintet.  But it seems that Krakow and Alchemia will also be a starting place for the group; this double lp contains the first recordings made by the new lineup with cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm.  After the V5’s November 2005 tour, when these recordings were made, the band entered the studio in Chicago to record A Discontinuous Line for Atavistic.  On this Not Two album are the early versions of “Convertible,” “Aperture,” and “Reciprocal,” three of the eight selections found on the later studio recording.  These compositions were further developed as the tour continued, but by the time we performed in Krakow the ensemble was clearly in full command of the music.  In addition to the new pieces, this album includes the only officially recorded examples of the way in which The Color Of Memory material was rearranged to accommodate the change from trombone to cello.  I think these pieces (“Vehicle,” “That Was Now,” “Camera,” “Suitcase,” and “Burn Nostalgia”) represent excellent examples of how a change in a band’s lineup will permanently change a band’s music.  These two lps capture The Vandermark 5 at a key transition point, between where the band had been with Jeb Bishop and where it might be going Fred Lonberg-Holm.

Over the last several years I have toured quite extensively in Europe and North America.  Out of all of the many locations I’ve played, certain places end up having special significance because they have afforded me, and the musicians I work with, the widest range of opportunities to exhibit our music and ideas.  Without question, Alchemia is one of these places, and has become one of the most important venues for me in the world.  With their help and particularly the assistance of Marek Winiarski, I’ve been able to present a more thorough representation of my work in Krakow, Poland than almost anywhere else other than Chicago.  By the time that this document is released, the audience in Krakow will have heard the V5, Bridge 61, Free Fall, Sonore, and the Free Music Ensemble, all in about two years.  I can’t say the same for most cities in my own country.

As with the Alchemia box set, the collection of recordings on these lps includes a transcription of a long interview, the second installment in discussions held with Janusz Jablonski and Tomasz Gregorczyk.  They are two of the best people I’ve ever had a chance to talk with about music, always providing insightful questions and a chance for me to speak my mind.  Since the three of us met in the spring of 2005 while Bridge 61 was in Krakow to perform, many of the details related in the interview have shifted. That quartet is no longer together, the ideal of our collective ensemble failed in the long run; thankfully we were able to make what I think is an excellent album before the work together ended, Journal (on Atavistic).  And, if anything, the political situation in the United States and in the Middle East is actually worse than it was when we talked about it in the spring a year and a half ago.  My interest in looking outside musical sources for different ways to organize sound has continued, and to a large extent that pursuit has become even more important to me than at the time of this transcribed interview.  I hope that as the years continue these discussions between the three of us can continue.  They have become a parallel way to mark the development of my ideas, and run alongside the recordings made at Alchemia.  Between these two streams of thought, one musical and one verbal, I believe a realistic portrayal of the changes in who I was as an artist is conveyed.

When I look back and think about the ideas we were dealing with a year ago, and when I listen to the recording held in that club, I’m confronted with the failures that are there; which is probably why I’d rather be doing something else than writing these liner notes right now.  But I’m also excited by what I hear, that the start of the music by the new quintet was so strong.  From night to night it continues to be, which is why after ten years this ensemble is still looking for it’s next gig- so that it can keep finding something different to say and hopefully pay some of the rent along the way.

-Ken Vandermark, Chicago, September 15, 2006.