Vandermark 5 and the week ahead

Birmingham Jazz kicks off its 2010 autumn season in powerful fashion with a very strong double-header at the CBSO Centre in Berkley Street on Saturday which features bands from both sides of the Atlantic.

From the US are old friends of Birmingham Jazz, the Ken Vandermark 5. Saxophonist Vandermark, long resident in Chicago, plays in a great variety of different bands but his quintet is one of the longest running and most tightly integrated, its line-up being two saxophones, cello, double bass and drums.

The music is a heady mix of strongly composed and free elements, and Vandermark’s improvisations are marked by their muscularity, energy and passion. He can howl convincingly on tenor or baritone saxophone one minute and then play gently and lyrically on bass clarinet the next. He advocates diversity and that is certainly apparent in his playing.

The Ken Vandermark 5 is a pretty prime example of where the uncompromising end of US jazz is today.

Complementing the 5, from Scandinavia comes Atomic. Not quite as long running as the US band, this is also a cohesive and strongly integrated quintet, with the classic quintet line-up of trumpet, saxophone, piano bass and drums. But, aside from the fact that Paal Nilssen-Love is a similarly pushy drummer, the Art Blakey Jazz Messengers this is not.

Atomic also have strong free jazz elements to their music but also mix it in with more formal composition and a European feel.

There is a lot that connects these bands, despite coming from different continents and in many ways reflecting the sounds of those continents. There is a great Ken Vandermark 5 tune that you can find on YouTube, called 01 Vehicle (for Magnus Broo); the trumpeter in Atomic is Magnus Broo. Here it is:

The gig starts at 8pm, tickets are £14 and you can get them from 0121 7674050 or at

There are two other Birmingham Jazz gigs before that one.

On Thursday the Birmingham Jazz Youth Group are the guests of Andy Hamilton’s Blue Notes at the Bearwood Corks Club. This excellent band grew out of Birmingham Jazz’s education work in Birmingham schools. Catch them from 9pm and find out more at

Friday’s Rush Hour Blues set is led by singer Laura Collins with her band which includes pianist Paul Sawtell, plus for this gig as special guest the saxophonist Jean Toussaint. It starts at 5.30pm in the Symphony Hall foyer bar. It’s free.

On Sunday evening down in Stratford-upon-Avon, Stratford Jazz presents the Partikel Trio, with Duncan Eagles on saxophone, Max Luthert on bass and Eric Ford on drums. Standards with a funky edge, for £6 on the door. It’s at The Chapel in Shakespeare Street and starts at 8pm. More at

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