The Vandermark 5 marched in like a lion and left like King Kong Thursday at Chief Ike's. But in between its beastly transformation, the experimental jazz quartet played an exceptionally detailed and passionate 75-minute set.
The band blasted out of the box with "Super Opaque," a long, frenetic piece combining freewheeling improvisations and tortuous written music, a trademark of the band's leader-composer-tenor saxophonist Ken Vandermark. The song drove out some of the club's befuddled happy hour crowd, but those who bolted missed the sinuous follow-up, which sounded like Ornette Coleman playing a film noir score.
Guitarist-trombonist Jeb Bishop used an effects pedal to make his six-string imitate sheet metal singing, and Vandermark switched to the unwieldy bass clarinet and, with low moans and ecstatic squeals, made it restlessly slinky. The difficult, layered, and multifaceted "Limited Edition" followed, going from guttural growls to quiet purrs, while "Rapid Transit" motored along like a hard bop classic.
The quartet pulsed like a cat stalking prey on "Last Call"; as Vandermark and alto saxophonist Dave Rempis produced thick, continuous drones, drummer Tim Mulvenna and bassist Kent Kessler locked into a hypnotic but subtly funky groove. "Encino" was a ballad before the storm, recalling the quiet beauty of Jimmy Giuffre's early-'60s abstract cool trio records, but the band concluded with the aptly titled "Vent," sending the packed crowd cheering into the night.
"A Family Affair" was a most apt description for both bassist Christian McBride's scintillating quartet and his gregarious Thursday night performance at Blues Alley. Each quartet member exhibited a supreme level of technical deftness, but what really roused their set was their communal fellowship, which eventually permeated the crowd.
McBride anticipated tenor saxophonist Tim Warfield's corkscrew asides with effortless alertness, while pianist John Beasley responded to both with wonderfully impressionistic accompaniment. Drummer Clarence Penn was particularly effective in setting up flinty polyrhythms, especially on the Coltranesque "Whirling Dervish." The group's rapport prevented cliched devices like trading fours from feeling stale.
McBride reigns as his generation's preeminent bassist with an authoritative sound and fleeting dexterity that belie his tender age. A magnificent improviser, McBride never lost his keen sense of melody during his most probing solos, which included a conversational reading of Cannonball Adderley's "Wabash." But it was Warfield who nearly stole the show as his burly tone caressed the reflective "Shade on the Cedar Tree," then blistered with passionate wails on "Whirling Dervish."
The quartet switched gears halfway as McBride picked up the electric bass and turned it out with an equally persuasive tribute to James Brown. Playing what McBride deemed "Augusta, Ga., funk," they delved deep in Soul Power with strutting renditions of "Make It Funky" and "Pass the Peas." Their balancing act of sophistication and stank definitely captured "the family affair" aesthetic without sacrificing jazz's serious musicality.