Acoustic Machine
Atavistic ALP128CD

Okka Disk OD 12039

Nonparticipant + Milk
Atavistic ALP131CD

Although most of the interest in The Vandermark 5 (V5) has, justifiably, been concentrated on indefatigable saxophonist Ken Vandermark, his MacArthur fellowship and his successful effort to bring jazz to the indie-rock crowd, the quintet has now become an incubator and showcase for two other important players.

During his time with the V5, Jeb Bishop has gone from being former rock guitarist who happens to also play trombone, to a rapidly maturing, individualist 'bone stylist. This is made even clearer on his solo discs like AFTERNOONS. What's more, his approach as well as Vandermark's are made that much more distinctive by the forceful bass playing of Kent Kessler, who has been an important part of the experimental Chicago scene since he joined Hal Russell's NRG Ensemble in the early 1980s.

Thus while the ear on the V5 CD is first drawn to Vandermark's contributions on his three horns, it soon deflects towards the bassist and trombonist. Take "License Complete", for instance, the tenor man's salute to Julius Hemphill. Kessler's timber-powerful bass line more than anything else determines the shape of the composition, while Bishop's rumbling blasts are as responsible for its success as the saxophonist's tenor saxophone honks.

On the other hand, Vandermark's Stan Getz homage, "Coast to Coast" finds Bishop expelling a comfortable, legato line that is as unruffled as the valve playing of Bob Brookmeyer, a frequent Getz collaborator, but with an extra POMO twist. Then, listen to "Auto Topography" that features Kessler unleashing a breakneck arco display.

Not that the multi-reedman is overshadowed by his sidemen though. On "Auto Topography", for instance, he lets loose with a screeching, stop-time display that could have gained him employment in one of the larger ensembles of honoree, tenor man Archie Shepp. Still, you yearn for more of his distinctive work on bass clarinet and clarinet. Furthermore while each one of Vandermark's longer compositions works in context, the five "Hbf" miniatures, "for Morton Feldman", lasting from 25 seconds to just over a minute, suggest a desire on the reedist's part to merely show that he can actually write in that style.

With no solo identification, as well, second saxophonist Dave Rempis, who plays tenor as well as alto, is often relegated to playing anonymous second fiddle … er, saxophone. Yet that's probably him who ends "Close Enough" in proper hushed, elegiac tones. As for drummer Tim Mulvenna, he stays in his place in the background throughout. Keeping the beat moving along smoothly, he offers no unnecessary percussion display.

Subtract Vandermark and Rempis and add guitarist Jeff Parker on four of the seven tracks and you'll get an even larger helping of Bishop's trombone talents with AFTERNOONS. Parker whose guitar has been featured in setting ranging from Ernest Dawkins' New Horizons Ensemble to the Chicago Underground Quartet, stays pretty much in the modern jazz mainstream here except for "Flex Time", which begins with bombastic, ear-puncturing licks.

What that means, essentially, is that his comping and occasional solos resemble the sort of treatment a versatile plectrumist like Jim Hall would have used in backing older trombone masters. In fact, when the guitarist solos, as on "Piggly Wiggly", the individual notes blend into a molasses-smooth covering.

For his part, Bishop never ventures into abstract territory pioneered by the likes of George Lewis or Johannes Bauer. In fact, his velvety tone and speedy execution hew close to standard valve sounds. Additionally, although the lines here are all self-composed, some, like "No More and No Less", sound a lot like Swing era ballads and there's even a point on "Pond" where he appears to be quoting "Heart and Soul".

If Bishop does introduce extended technique on "The Umbrella", it's using the sort of shuddering and fluttering notes with which Dixielanders would be familiar. Of course he's still his own man, since here, there and elsewhere he can jump from trad slurs to lightning-quick, implementation as on "Piggly Wiggly" without the solos degenerating into mechanized bop runs.

Although he has fewer sound fields to brush up against, Kessler maintains his steady intonation and subtle rhythmic thrust here as well. Mostly a tower of rhythmic strength with prodding pizzicato pushes, he sparingly indulges in a few arco thrusts when the time unfolds a little more freely as on "The Umbrella". Unspectacular, but solid and dependable, odd man out Mulvenna gets only a few brief solo spots that demonstrate his talents as an accompanist. All and all a fine session.

With Parker holding onto the only true chordal instrument, Tricolor is a different story. The other two lines of Chicago-based the Tricolor triangle are bassist Tatsu Aoki, who frequently works with tenor man Fred Anderson, as well as on his own Asian-American projects, and David Pavkovic, who usually drums for the post-rock Boxhead Ensemble.

Unwilling to dominate the trio the way conventional guitarists like Hall or Joe Pass would in a similar situation, Parker seems most comfortable showcasing bantam

electronic licks than forcing the others in his direction. With Aoki sticking to the most basic pulses on the bass, even when he takes an unaccompanied solo as on "Nonparticipant" — an interesting and revealing title — it's up to Pavkovic to bring color to the proceedings. Cymbal slides and steady snare and tom beatings highlight his palate on "Deceit", for instance. Otherwise it seems to be little more than a demonstration of pedal and amplifier equipment from Parker.

Although most of the other tunes cleave to a standard foot-tapping rhythm, "Milk" — who thought of these titles? — is more abstract. With Aoki's regular bowing providing the composition's underpinning, Pavkovic builds up a tiny fidgety symphony of different beats, while Parker's echoing notes suggest the sort of intro lead-guitarists indulge in before introducing power chords to a pop song.

Recorded live at Chicago's Hothouse in early March, the performance appears to have satisfied the audience in attendance. But on disc, the bare bones of the musical skeleton protrude. Cohesion and direction seem to be missing. Too often the three sound as if they're a rhythm section waiting for a soloist to arrive. Perhaps the three have got better since then, or maybe that's why the band is only a part-time project among all their other commitments.

Either way, while NONPARTICIPANT + MILK isn't quite a failure, it also isn't in the same league as the other two more focused discs.

— Ken Waxman

Acoustic: Track Listing: 1.Hbf 4 2. Auto Topography 3. Fall to Grace 4. Hbf 2 5. License Complete 6. Coast to Coast 7. Hbf 3 8. Close Enough 9. Hbf 1 10. Wind Out 11. Stranger Blues 12. Hbf 5

Acoustic: Personnel: Jeb Bishop (trombone); Dave Rempis (alto and tenor saxophones); Ken Vandermark (tenor saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet); Kent Kessler (bass); Tim Mulvenna (drums)

Afternoons: Track Listing: 1. Flex Time* 2. No More and No Less [for Mary Bishop]* 3. The Get-Go 4. Pond 5. Mirror Image* 6. The Umbrella 7. Piggly Wiggly*

Afternoons: Personnel: Jeb Bishop (trombone); Jeff Parker (guitar)*; Kent Kessler (bass); Tim Mulvenna (drums)

Nonparticipant: 1. Palpable 2. Nonparticipant 3. Unabashed 4. Deceit 5. Milk 6. Cajole

Nonparticipant: Jeff Parker (guitar); Tatsu Aoki (bass); David Pavkovic (drums)