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Thursday, April 14, 2016

Dave Rempis, Elisabeth Harnik, Michael Zerang - Wistfully (Aerophonic, 2016) ***

First off, I am loving this new run of digital releases from Aerophonic records. First was the excellent Engines double album, GREEN KNIGHTS, and now comes a stellar improvised outing from Dave Rempis, Elisabeth Harnik, and Michael Zerang. The album, recorded live in Graz, Austria in 2013, features Rempis on alto and tenor sax, Harnik on piano, and Zerang on percussion, yet even this simple listing misrepresents the range of each performer’s contribution. The recording, even the grouping, exists almost by luck. The trio hadn’t performed together, and only met up as Rempis and Zerang went on tour following a Resonance Ensemble residency. The resulting performance is every bit the kind of album you want from a freely improvised session. 

Recently, I was trying to explain to a friend what’s powerful about improvisation, and how if you’re new to it, you may need to see a group live to grasp what they’re accomplishing. That’s probably not the case here, as the trio’s range is somewhat larger than a single performance or recording can possibly capture. Harnik’s piano playing is massive, encompassing a range of sounds that matches the Zerang’s broadly percussive style. On “Wistful 2,” the pair creates a metallic and angular clanging that plays under Rempis’s sparse solo line. Harnik occasionally adds chords to deepen the sound, but its her extended techniques inside the piano that really challenge the listener. Zerang takes the lead on “Wistful 3,” with a rollicking solo that explores the various timbres of the drums and cymbals, a neat counterpoint to Harnik’s percussive piano playing. Rempis opens “Wistful 5” with a barely accompanied solo that embodies the title’s emotional state. 

Rempis has a genuine gift for imbuing free improvisation with emotional honesty and humor, and I look forward to hearing more from this digital series. There’s a little more risk in these settings, and much greater rewards for listeners willing to go along.