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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Dave Rempis: Days of Ballister and Rempis (Day 1)

By Martin Schray

Since Dave Rempis moved from Boston to Chicago in 1993 he has been an integral part of the Chicago scene – as an improviser, composer, bandleader and jack-of-all trades for new music. He has made his name as a member of bands like Vandermark 5, The Engines, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten’s Chicago Sextet, Ballister, Rempis Percussion Quartet and his duo collaborations with Tim Daisy and Frank Rosaly, he helped form the presenters’ collective Umbrella Music and is also one of the organizers of the Pitchfork Music Festival, a huge alternative rock event in Chicago, he helped curating the Umbrella Music Festival and he has even started his own label – Aerophonic Records. It seems as if he wants to become Chicago’s John Zorn.

“Dave Rempis is one of the artists that I admire most on the contemporary scene,” Ken Vandermark, one of his mentors in Chicago, said, “he is completely dedicated and disciplined in his approach to music. (…) This is how the music moves forward, through the activity of innovative people with Dave's attitude and generosity.”

Rempis loves to be independent, for him it’s enough to have a platform to release his projects and to have direct contact to the people who buy and listen to his music. Moreover, Rempis’s label is deliberately avoiding working with Amazon, iTunes and the other outlets independent labels typically use to reach the market because he doesn’t believe in the stumble-upon-theory. He said that he has spent years building his network within the music, and that his own label was the first chance he had to communicate with his fans immediately. This is more important for him than winning a handful of potential sales “through a faceless corporate entity that’s profiting off so many other artists.”

Not only is this a very likeable attitude, but whenever you have the chance to talk to him you’ll find that Rempis is simply a very nice and interesting guy. In the next three days we will have a closer look at his most recent releases.

Ballister – Worse for the Wear (Aerophonic, 2014) ****  

Michael, one of my boyhood friends, is an amateur scuba diver. Once he told me that he was drift diving, a type of scuba diving where the diver is transported by the currents caused by the tide. The current gave him the impression of flying and allowed him to cover long distances underwater, so that it was possible for him to see more habitats and sea life than usual. He said that he felt as if he was completely helpless – yet in a fascinating way. First he felt shocked, then he just let himself go and at the end – after he was released from this force of nature – he needed to relax and orientate himself. That’s how you might feel when you listen to “Fornax”, the first track on Ballister’s Worse for the Wear, an album recorded live in Chicago on their spring tour in 2014.

From the very first second you are in the middle of sheer power and raw energy – after  playing together for more than five years Dave Rempis (saxes), Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello, electronics) and Paal Nilssen-Love (percussion) obviously don’t need to warm up anymore. They started their Chicago set with enormous velocity, it’s a whirlwind of emotion and sound listening to Rempis’ soulful and almost classic free jazz saxophone, Nilssen-Love’s surprisingly mad but dry-as-a-bone drumming and Lonberg-Holm’s electronics which seem to be put through the meat grinder. On top you get some grindcore vocals for free.

Ballister’s typical characteristics like abrasiveness and immediacy are juxtaposed by introspective passages and moments of almost quiet beauty which result in a complex, tight, yet accessible structure. There are moments of sudden stops when one of the instruments seems to be left alone (like the sax after 13 minutes in “Fornax”, like the drums just a few minutes later and like the cello as well at the end of the same piece) which has a breathtaking effect because there is no lack of intensity – the track has just zigzagged to move off in a different direction. Only Nilssen-Love’s Chinese gongs announce the end of this tour de force.

“Scutum”, the second track, basically takes the same line, although Lonberg-Holm mainly does it without electronics concentrating on pristine cello sound (at least at the beginning). “Scutum” is darker and a more desperate listening experience than “Fornax”, since the calming moments have gone. “Vulpecula”, the last track, at least provides some of them, albeit in a discomforting manner.
In a nutshell: A typical Ballister album for people who like their first four releases as well as a great chance for beginners.

Listen to “Scutum” here:

You can buy the album from InstantJazz or from the label 


Colin Green said...

I’m completely at a loss to understand the objection to stumbling upon things, which I’ve done many times, both online and off. What is the difference between stumbling upon this album on the InstantJazz site, to which you’ve provided a link, and Amazon, or even this review? And how exactly does Rempis communicate with his “fans” more immediately through purchases on the label’s site – does he telephone every purchaser for a chat?

It could be that Rempis makes a bigger mark up through direct sales than via Amazon and iTunes. In which case: fair enough, but he should say so rather than dressing it up in hippy rhetoric.

Stef said...

Hi Colin, I agree with you. A lot of the music I have is the result of focused (and often less so) searching of new material on a variety of websites and platforms and even real shops. It is clearly NOT the promotional efforts by labels or musicians that is the main source of information.

Martin Schray said...

I was just quoting him. On the one hand I have never stumbled upon anything on amazon or i-tunes. Evan Parker once told me that he doesn't get hardly anything from downloads, it's nothing compared with buying physical copies. On the other hand I have stumbled upon a lot of things on websites like ours, of course.
As to amazon: I have really tried to avoid them after their dispute with Hachette. In Germany they literally tried to blackmail a publisher. I guess it's in the nature of monopolists to act that way. I buy my stuff from local record dealers and from discos (if it is out of print). It's much more often that I stumble upon new music because my dealers recommend stuff to me. However, I can understand people who buy their things via amazon, especially if they don't live in bigger cities and don't have the possibility to get things easily.

Colin Green said...

Well Martin, you go on to say in the review: “Not only is this a very likeable attitude…” which sounds like an endorsement to me.

It seems as if you don’t stumble on anything on Amazon because you try and avoid the site. I’m struggling to understand what point you’re making given that people who do use it – such as those you mention – might well do so. You’re obviously a very moral purchaser – do you check up on the credentials of people from whom your purchase on Discogs, as some are also selling the same albums as third party sellers on Amazon?

I’m sure Evan Parker is right, which is one reason why anyone who doesn’t produce a high volume of sales (pretty much everything reviewed on this blog) would prefer cutting out the middle man and selling direct. It makes commercial sense, but has nothing to do with faceless corporations. The fact is, pretty much the whole of the Internet is faceless, whether you’re buying through Discogs, Amazon or iTunes.

Martin Schray said...

I think it's a likable attitude to avoid big corporations in general. I don't check the credentials on discogs, so that's right. I am not a fundamentalist as to buying things on the internet (I sometimes I download stuff on i-tunes, but very rarely and I also buy films on amazon and I use i-tunes and amazon for information - whether an album is already released or sometimes I give albums a listen; but that is usually focused). I agree that buying things on the internet is faceless per definition but still - the logarithms have never helped me, though.

Colin Green said...

The suggestions thrown up by the algorithms can be amusing, but are sometimes useful and have on occasions provided me with something I wasn’t aware of, or a book or music that I’ve read excerpts from, reviews of, or listened to, that have led to a purchase. I don’t see this is radically different from browsing in a second-hand bookshop. Sometimes a spine or cover will attract one’s attention, you can dip into it, and decide to buy. It’s what makes life more interesting, and to my mind is wholly unobjectionable.

Paul said...

I'd like a feature in Amazon that suggests something I may not like right away but could grow to truly cherish.

AGM said...

No matter how one finds it, this is an album with a lot of fun and excitement. I hope Rempis does well with his label.

Dave Rempis said...

Hi guys...Dave Rempis here responding to some of this...

While I don't telephone each buyer, I do email every person who purchases a cd, record, or digital download from the Aerophonic Records website to say hi and thank them as I package up their order. And I'm also able to add them to the email list for the label, to help continue that relationship if they like what they hear. So in that sense I think it is actually much less of a faceless purchase through itunes, etc.

Thanks for the kind reviews, and interest in the music in general!