Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 22 September 1964) Reeds, including tenor and baritone saxes, Bb and bass clarinets; composer and bandleader. He relocated from Boston to Chicago in 1989 and began invigorating improvised music at a furious pace. He succeeded Hal Russell in the NRG Ensemble on Russell's death in 1992 (see Russell's entry); the NRG at that time also included Mars Williams; NRG CDs with Vandermark were Calling All Mothers '93 on Quinnah, This Is My House '95 on Delmark, and Bejazzo Gets A Facelift '97 on Atavistic. Vandermark and Williams also worked in a duo called Cinghiale (pronounced 'chin-ga-ley'), releasing Hoofbeats Of The Snorting Swine '96 on Eighth Day Music.

Williams also gigged with the industrial rock band Die Warzau, and formed a sextet late '95 with Vandermark and ex-NRG Steve Hunt on percussion to play Albert Ayler's music. Vandermark has been setting the pace since then, forging all his influences (everything from Texas tenors to Anthony Braxton) and playing in every conceivable format: on Chicago's Okkadisk label, he played with Hunt and pianist Jim Baker on the eponymous Caffeine, and with Kessler and drummer Curt Newton as Steelwool Trio. His own albums as leader include Concert For Jimmy Lyons '92 on Stoidal Circus, Standards and Utility Hitter '95 on Quinnah, the latter with the Barrage Double Trio: Vandermark, Newton and bassist Nate McBride on one channel, Williams, Kessler and Hamid Drake on the other. Peter Brötzmann came to Chicago to make a trio album and there was a two-tenor blow with Vandermark and Mats Gustafsson (and Kessler and Hunt); the DKV Trio (Hamid Drake, Kessler and Vandermark) recorded with Anderson, all this on Okka, and contributed their own live set to the first in a series of limited edition CDs on that label. Real Time '96 on Eighth Day Music was a quartet called Steam: Vandermark, Mulvenna, Kessler and Baker.

Single Piece Flow '96 on Atavistic by the Ken Vandermark 5 included Williams, Kessler, Jeb Bishop on trombone and guitar, Tim Mulvenna on drums; Williams left (he's now been touring for years with the funk-rock band Liquid Soul) replaced by Dave Rempis playing alto and tenor saxes, and the Ken Vandermark 5 have released Burn The Incline '99, Acoustic Machine 2001, Airports For Light 2002, Elements of Style/Exercises in Surprise 2003, The Color Of Memory 2004 (Tim Daisy replacing Mulvenna), A Discontinuous Line 2005 (Fred Loneberg-Holm on cello and electronics replacing Bishop) and Beat Reader 2006, all on Atavistic, several initially coming with bonus discs which are later spun off (e.g. Free Jazz Classics Vols 1&2). On Not Too Records, distributed by Atavistic, there were also Alchemia, a 12-CD set documenting the quintet's entire week at the club of that name in Krakow in 2004; and Four Sides To The Story, a 2-disc vinyl set from the Polish tour of 2005, live versions of material from the 2004 and 2005 CDs, and the first set to include Loneberg-Holm.

Vandermark seems to have settled on the quintet as his main vehicle, though there was also In Our Times 2002 on Okka by School Days, who were Vandermark, Bishop, Kjell Nordeson on vibes, Ingebrigt Håker-Flaten on bass and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums, recorded live in Oslo; Broken Music released 2008 on Atavistic by a trio called  Fire Room with Vandermark, Nilssen-Love, and Lasse Marhaug on electronics, described as 'completely improvised sound collisions', and probably other stuff. Vandermark received a MacArthur Grant in 1999, and a good thing too; he has so much music in him that he can't stop, and it all has a unique strength of character.