The latest incarnation of the Vandermark 5, with cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm replacing longtime trombonist Jeb Bishop, has just released its first recording, A Discontinuous Line (Atavistic). The sonic differences aren’t huge, and Ken Vandermark still borrows from a wide array of sources for his episodic tunes, but the new lineup has sanded away some of the postbop shimmer that was on the group’s last few albums. Lonberg-Holm thickens the stew, laying down pizzicato vamps and commentaries as other members take solos, and his bowed parts in the contrapuntal arrangements give the music more heft and a less burnished sound.
What surprises me about the disc is that Vandermark hasn’t returned to the more raucous sound of the group’s early days. Since Lonberg-Holm can kick up noise and chaos as well as anyone, I assumed (mistakenly, it turns out) that his involvement was designed to help the band pack a bigger wallop. While there are some intense passages, like the cellist’s heavy but groovy sawing on “Some Not All,” Vandermark explores a wide range of sonic possibilities on the new disc, which includes some the group’s most tender recordings.