In recent years more and more musicians have opted to straitjacket themselves into ever-narrowing niches. Rock bands now specialize in noise pop, slacker rock, techno, or any number of other pigeonholes; likewise jazz artists, once among the most eclectic musicians in the world, often restrict their expression to the confines of swing, postbop, free jazz, or some other offshoot. The industry abets this trend because it simplifies the goal of making music a marketable commodity targeted at a specific audience, and the public seems to relish the notion of music as life-style accoutrement. Fortunately there are groups like the Vandermark Quartet, who vigorously buck the system, knowing that boundaries inevitably lead to stagnation. A typical Vandermark Quartet set fluidly crosses free jazz with straight-ahead playing while interpolating bits of rock, funk, and ethnic music. In less capable and passionate hands this might all add up to smug, artsy dilettantism, but this group delivers a sometimes delicate, sometimes frenzied sonic hybrid that’s as unique and powerful as anything else on the scene. The band (Ken Vandermark, reeds; Michael Zerang, drums; Kent Kessler, bass; Daniel Scanlon, guitar, cornet, violin) are all veterans hell-bent on finding something new to say and then saying it with all the imagination and intensity they can muster. Although they probably play out more often than anybody in town, they rarely repeat themselves, and they never coast. Friday (with Debris; see Critic’s Choice), 9 PM, and Tuesday, 8:30 PM, HotHouse, 1565 N. Milwaukee; 235-2334. Thursday, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 525-2508.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Debra E. Levie.