No sleepy time music here

The Vandermark 5: Burn the Incline


I woke up in the middle of the night last Friday and couldn’t get back to sleep. My wife Marion and I had been to some gallery openings that evening, catching up with old friends, meeting some interesting new ones and seeing some really great local art. All of which stirred lots of ideas in the middle of the night.

Finally, I gave in and got up and poured myself a glass of wine. Rather than sit at the computer or turn on the TV, I sat in the dark in our new living room and popped this disk into my Discman. Big mistake.

From the first notes, it was clear that this was not the music to lull me back to sleep. Ken Vandermark is the MacArthur Fellowship-winning local jazz reed player and composer. He collaborates with musicians from around the world in a wide range of settings and styles, but to my ear, The Vandermark 5 is the most exciting.

Burn the Incline, a 2000 release, is a prime example. As’s Tad Hendrickson puts it, it features “a smart mix of noirish balladry, intense freetime improvisation, and snappy bop charts, but the quintet’s smart playing always manages to avoid giving listeners whiplash.” For me, while it doesn’t give you whiplash, it constantly makes twists and turns to keep you actively listening, waiting to see how a sudden curve of a solo will resolve back into the structure of the piece.

And it does it while staying solidly in the jazz genre. I find myself listening to a lot of improvisational and avant garde music these days. Some of it can go pretty darned abstract on you.

If you’re into free jazz—or if you want to stretch your ear a little—Burn the Incline is a great album to do it. Exciting and challenging, but accessible. Just don’t listen to it before bedtime.


Exploring ‘Your Brain on Music’—With all the shiny things it offers, the Internet has made magpies of all of us. Among the best is my friend Carolyn in St. Louis. She’s often sending me sparkly little links to catch my attention. Like this one, a link to an interview she heard on NPR.

In his book This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, author Daniel Levitin writes about how the brain responds to sound. He says that our brains are prediction factories. Our neurons and synapses race ahead to predict what will happen next and plan for action we should take in response. Levitin said that people like music because it is predictable—up to a point. If it’s too predictable, we get bored. In the interview, he compares rapper Ludacris to Frank Sinatra in their ability to manipulate time, singing things a little early or a little late, stretching out words to play with the tempo. This unpredictability challenges our brains and keeps us engaged.

An interesting interview—give it a listen. Thanks, Carolyn.

Back to Blue Kitchen


One Response to “No sleepy time music here”

  1. play music Says:

    Hello, nice post. Bookmark it.

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