Saxophonist Ken Vandermark will be the first to tell you that he’s no über-intellectual. But a quick glance at the 1999 MacArthur “genius” fellow’s lengthy discography illustrates the undeniable restlessness that he shares with other grant recipients Max Roach, Ornette Coleman, and Cecil Taylor. And while the 30-something Vandermark has yet to record an album as essential as Deeds, Not Words, The Shape of Jazz to Come, or Unit Structures, he has created something almost as rare—a great working band. Just about every Tuesday night, the Vandermark 5 hold court down at the Empty Bottle in their hometown of Chicago. It’s that constant activity that sets the band far apart from the rest of avant-jazzdom. Formed in 1996, the quintet seldom gets mired in free-jazz clichés, because it takes an expansive view of jazz history. On the group’s latest full-length, Airports for Light, the Vandermark 5 opt for no single narrative. Instead, they reference the lush, cool jazz of Lee Konitz, the hard art-funk of Miles Davis, and the precision third-stream musings of Anthony Braxton (sometimes all within the same song). Vandermark says the group is aspiring to a more orchestrated sound (à la Gil Evans), and it shows when the band hits the stage: There’s no shortage of solos from trombonist Jeb Bishop, drummer Tim Daisy, bassist Kent Kessler, and saxophonist Dave Rempis, but there’s also a remarkable unity of effort—the song always takes precedent over the individual. The Vandermark 5 play at 8:30 p.m. Sunday, March 23, at the Black Cat’s Backstage, 1811 14th St. NW. $10. (202) 667-7960. (Brent Burton)