Vandermark gives free jazz Goofy June Bug legs

Subtlety and restraint are words rarely used to describe the work of Chicago sax man Ken Vandermark. As a member of seminal free jazz and improvisational ensembles Vandermark 5, Spaceways Inc., Caffeine, and too many others to name, he’s done more to further jazz music over the last two decades than seems humanly possible.

“There are a lot of great players out there, and I want to play with them all,” he laughs. “It keeps me busy.”

The frenetic pace of his output traverses a wide range of sounds, reaching from a traditional European approach to spontaneous freakouts. Vandermark’s latest offering is a collaboration with Dutch counterpart Ab Baars of ICP Orchestra titled Goofy June Bug. It’s bound by a lingering tension that builds between every note and skronk, flourishing in whispered silence before breaking into wild, blood-boiling chaos.

Both Vandermark and Baars alternate between saxophone and clarinet over a careening rhythm section of Wilbert De Joode (double bass) and Martin Van Duynhoven (drums). The spaciousness of “Straws” makes its omnipotence clear from the onset. Other more ominous pieces, such as “Honest John” or the quivering confusion of “Then He Whirled About,” ebb with an aggressive sound, but the music walks on insect legs, scuttling out of the light before revealing its true form.

Through that process, the music upholds a mystique, diving into strange, sometimes uncomfortable — though no less captivating — terrain for both listener and musician. “The CD focuses on the group in a way that keeps it from being a free jazz blowout,” Vandermark says. “I’m always challenging myself to work in different kinds of ways, and working with Ab’s trio, which has a strong identity, dealt with the music in a more abstract way rather than throwing it right into your face. And that was a refreshing way to work.”