Perhaps You Should See the Vandermark 5

The Chicago 5: Ken Vandermark (left) and the rest of his freewheeling jazz band

The Chicago 5: Ken Vandermark (left) and the rest of his freewheeling jazz band

What follows is a strange and hopefully prankish e-mail I received this week, printed here in the hopes that it will encourage people to attend the forthcoming Vandermark 5 show at the Turf Club. They're a great band. On this the letter writer and I agree.


"Dear" Dylan,

Perhaps we shall finally meet at the Vandermark 5 show Wednesday, January 25 at the Turf Club. Thank you for advising me to "start with" the group's 2004 album Elements of Style, Exercises in Surprise. I should confess, however, that I'm beginning to question your authority on the matter. Having befriended your downstairs neighbors and tracked your errand-running habits, I've been able to gain access to your home on two occasions. Rest assured that I am harmless. In fact, harmlessness is one of my least attractive traits. At any rate, it appears that you are the owner of just two of the impressively prolific Ken Vandermark's vast catalog of albums: the previously mentioned Elements... and the recent The Color of Memory. Gosh, you must be quite the expert! So as not to confuse you, I shall concern myself below with selections from the albums that have made your acquaintance.

In your (one and only) response to my assorted, friendly e-missives, you wrote (I am paraphrasing, to the benefit of your prose, I might add) that you have long held that beauty is superior to ugliness but that beauty combined with ugliness is better still. Not a particularly original thought, and surely not one you believe absolutely. I trust, for instance, that you would not find Joyce DeWitt (she seems like your type, based at least on your collection of amateur erotica) more attractive if her luxurious legs (caress me!, they shout) were replaced with giant bratwursts (commonly considered ugly). At any rate, I reject your idea that "Chance" (from Color) and "Gyllene" (from Elements), both pulchritudinous pieces (forgive the insufferable alliteration) of almost Ellingtonian dignity, are more beautiful because they are surrounded by atonal, violent sounds. Modernism trades in violence and discordance, of course, because the world does. If there is beauty in truth, then "difficult" art is the fairest of them all. I fear, Mr. Hicks, that you are a 19th-century thinker, clutching to a "beauty" as pleasing to behold as Polyneices' corpse.

To my ears (proportionate, unlike some jug-eared jazz "authorities" I may or may not have photographs of), the saxophonic squawks and squeaks and honks and smears of Vandermark and his bandmate Dave Rempis are as aw-shucks pretty as your daisies and sunsets. All sorts of well-meaning musicians say that they're trying to make their instruments sound like singing, since humanist claptrap holds that the human voice is the grandest of all instruments. So I like that these guys' instruments often sound like machines and animals (hippos, I think, and raccoons). On "That Was Now," one of the saxes makes the sound truck drivers employ to warn people that they are or will be traveling in reverse. BLONK, BLONK, etc. To which I say, with apologies to Juvenile (a favorite of one of my nephews), Back that thing up, boys, back that thing up!

Well, time's winged chariot.... I'll "let you go" and look for you at the show. Even with your limited exposure to the quintet--shall we name them? Vandermark; Rempis; trombonist Jeb Bishop (replaced recently by cellist Fred Lonbert-Holm, who'll be at the Turf Club); bassist Kent Kessler; and drummer Tim Daisy (there is your flower!)--you should understand that this is a simpatico unit, no mere assemblage of available players, no flimflam flibbertyjib, no mood-setting, dim the lights, glass of oversweet wine, no currently on vacation blog of falsehoods and clever illiteracy, no fair-weather friend.


[Name Withheld]