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Burn the Incline

The Vandermark 5

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Album Review

The fourth CD by the Vandermark 5 doesn't blast out of the gate with full-bore skronk the way Simpatico did, but rather insinuates itself with the listener in a more gradual fashion. "Distance," the leadoff track, starts with a bass solo from Kent Kessler, somewhat giving the impression that the band's performance has been caught in mid-stride. The tune does, in fact, burn its way up the incline — the band moves from a somewhat plaintive Ornette-ish theme through a chunky modal vamp into emphatic blues-funk riffing, with scorched-earth sax and guitar solos blasting away as the band gathers steam. "Distance" is almost a summary of everything that Burn the Incline offers aside from outright swing and free jazz. Swing enters the picture with "The Cooler," which like all else on the CD is filled with stellar soloing; there are wonderful turns by Jeb Bishop on trombone, Vandermark on bass clarinet, and Dave Rempis on tenor. The ruminations of "Late Night Wait Around" are followed by "Roulette," a dose of blistering up-tempo funk with a dedication to bassist Nate McBride. The band remains relaxed during the lovely ballad "The Trouble Is"; this tune, with its beautiful alto solo from Rempis, proves that the Vandermark 5 can be compelling even when in a reflective mood. The CD closes with the rhythmically open "Ground," a piece that is multifaceted in the manner of "Distance" but with a pronounced tilt toward free jazz explosiveness. With this track, the apex has indeed been reached and the incline leading to it left smoldering in the Vandermark 5's path. All in all, Burn the Incline is another strong release from the Vandermark 5 — it may not be a step up from Simpatico, but it holds its own against the standard of that extraordinary release and effectively measures the ensemble's growth into one of the best working bands in creative improvised music circa 1999-2000. [The first 1,000 copies of Burn the Incline included not only the aforementioned Vandermark-penned tracks but also a second CD comprised of credible live V5 covers of "free jazz classics": "Happy House" by Ornette Coleman, "69L" by Anthony Braxton, "Conquistador, Pt. 2" by Cecil Taylor, "Goodbye Tom B." by Joe McPhee, "Saturn" by Sun Ra, "Gazzelloni" by Eric Dolphy, and "New York Is Full of Lonely People" by Lester Bowie. In 2002, this bonus CD was released by Atavistic as half of a two-CD set entitled Free Jazz Classics, Vols. 1 & 2, which also includes a second CD of live tracks originally released as a limited-edition bonus disc with the Vandermark 5's Acoustic Machine from 2001.]

Burn the Incline, The Vandermark 5
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