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November 2005

The Vandermark 5
The Color of Memory
Atavistic Records

Ken Vandermark hasn't been shy about documenting his projects-least of all his longstanding quintet, the Vandermark 5. Hardcore fans have surely snatched up the V5's recent 12-CD box, Alchemia (or at least thought about it). With this double-disc release, Vandermark returns to a more modest scale, relatively speaking. The Color of Memory also marks the final recording of an original V5 member, the trombonist Jeb Bishop. (Cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm replaced Bishop in the summer of '05).

The Color of Memory is in many ways a typical V5 outing. As with past efforts, Vandermark's canny structures, filled with dramatic pauses and creative counterpoint, ably showcase the band's brawny bop-to-free solos. The recording's opener, "That Was Now," sets the tone with a driving beat, a raw, sandpapery sound and plenty of solo space. If anything marks this release, it's Vandermark's use of West Coast cool-school-inspired arrangement. He's delved into this before, but it's very pronounced here. Sudden bursts of swing and harmony enliven the hard-driving "Vehicle," which opens the second disc. The band embraces breezy swing completely on the mellow "Chance."

A few tunes include drawn-out sections of free improv. They may have been intended to vary the program, but in practice, they hold it back. These sections don't hang together nearly as well, and the momentum-stopping "Camera," which goes on for nearly 20 minutes and includes a long stretch of not particularly compelling free-group improvisation, is a low point. The Color of Memory could have been pared down into a single recording of quality music. Nevertheless, even casual admirers of the group may want to spring for this one at least for the generous solo space Vandermark gives the departing Bishop.

Originally published in November 2005
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