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Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Dave Rempis Roundup

By Eyal Hareuveni

Chicagoan sax player is a busy man during so-called normal times and even more during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown. In the last months, he has emptied his safe of treasured live recordings, released weekly on his Aerophonic label, while other recent projects are being released by himself and other labels.

Ballister - Znachki Stilyag (Aerophonic, 2020) ****½

Znachki Stilyag is a somewhat nonsense title in Russian, roughly translated with the help of google as "hipster icons." This playful title captures the spirit of the performance of the powerhouse trio Ballister - sax player Dave Rempis, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, who also adds electronics, and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, at Moscow’s DOM club in October 2019. Rempis, Lonberg-Holm, and Nilssen-Love are, obviously, not the typical hipsters but each of them has become an icon of free and energetic music in his own very special way, and even more so together as a trio.

Ballister celebrates this year its tenth anniversary and Znachki Stilyag is already its ninth album, recorded during a European tour. The riotous energy of the Moscow audience pushed Ballister to new heights. But this live performance also marks a new era of Ballister. Rempis adds here more space, breath, and eccentric humor to his ecstatic playing; Nilssen-Love continues to incorporate influences from his ongoing collaborations with Ethiopian and Brazilian musicians, and Lonberg-Holm’s breadth of musical experience is on full display here.

Ballister focuses here on intricate, long-form improvisations, that reveal an underlying logic and organic structure. The titles suggest some insights about life on the road. The opening, almost 40-minutes “Fuck the Money Changers” flows naturally from one intense climax to another - some are ecstatic and playful free jazz segments, others are openly emotional and lyrical and few are sparse, abstract and even exotic ones, as the trio exhausts its fast-shifting dynamics and exploratory sonic excursions, with laser-beam accuracy. The following “hotel Mary Poppins” is a twisted but highly passionate version of a chamber jazz interplay, obviously, faster and louder, and the last “Old Worms” is an explosive, freak-out with such intense energy and rhythmic drive that could warm up the whole Moscow region for the entire Russian winter.

One of the performances that I - and probably most of you - would pay a fortune to be there.

Dave Rempis / Elisabeth Harnik / Michael Zerang - Triple Tube (NotTwo, 2020) ****

Triple Tube is the second album of the trio of Rempis, fellow-Chicagoan drummer Michael Zerang and Austrian pianist Elisabeth Harnik, following Wistfully (Aerophonic, 2016), and, again, was recorded live in Graz, Austria, the hometown of Harnik, this time at Tube’s in March 2019.

The atmosphere of this performance is reserved and introspective. Rempis plays the alto sax and enjoys the free-associative exchange of ideas with Harnik that often suddenly ignite into intense and openly emotional ones, while Zerang charges this tight interplay with fragmented pulse and colors it with an array of percussive objects. Later on and throughout the second piece, Rempis, Harnik, and Zerang suggest their distinct perspectives of a percussive-playful conversation that shifts through abstract and more focused, fiery moods but not explosive ones. This development highlights Harnik’s wide-ranging ability to offer an imaginative vocabulary and sound for every abrupt shift. She hammers the keyboards, rubs the strings inside the piano, and sketches a fragile, almost transparent melody that invites Rempis to even more emotional playing. Rempis, Harnik, and Zerang begin the encore as a fragile, ethereal drone that slowly gains more power and volume - literally, until the brief, playful coda.

More info:

TOC & Dave Rempis - Closed For Safety Reasons (Circum Disc, 2020) ***½

Closed for Safety Reasons presents an obvious match. TOC is French, Lille-based trio featuring keyboards player Jérémie Ternoy, guitarist Ivann Cruz and drummer Peter Orins that has developed its own genre-bending aesthetics - free, hypnotic pop-funk, post-rock and jazz core, or as the trio calls it: disturbing, orgiastic and communicative. Rempis with his academic studies of ethnomusicology and African studies, his experience with free jazz and free improvisation and captivating energy fits perfectly to the unclassifiable language of TOC and its claim to shake feet and heads.

TOC invited Rempis to join the trio in February 2018 for the release concert of Will Never Play These Songs Again (Circum Disc, 2018) at the La Malterie, Lille. Later that year

Rempis joined TOC again for a short European Tour and recorded Closed for Safety Reasons at La Malterie. Local tenor sax player Sakina Abdou from the local musicians collective Muzzix was invited to join this quartet on the last piece. Rempis feels at home with the dense and powerful eclectic-electric-psychedelic mix of TOC. His energetic and restless playing on the tenor and alto saxes pushes TOC even further to more extreme, wild, and intense but also to abstract and mysterious territories. He blends organically with the free-associative, joyful trance of the free-improvised pieces. The addition of Abdou on “Temporary Lease” deepens furthermore the ethereal-atmospheric-psychedelic spirit of this meeting and she immediately finds a common language with Rempis.

Sangliers - Minuscules (The Bridge Sessions) (Aerophonic, 2020) ***½

Rempis first engagement with TOC coincided with The Bridge invitation to connect with more French improvisers, in an attempt to enrich their methods and philosophy about free music, or as double bass master Barre Philips calls it: “try to widen the circle”. Rempis came to this meeting with fellow-Chicagoan reeds player Keefe Jackson, who hosted him in his Project Project and Likely So bands, and met the French percussionists - Peter Orins - from TOC, and Didier Lasserre and pianist Christine Wodrascka. This quintet was supposed to tour this year, but, again, the Covid-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of this tour.

The beginning of this meeting is hesitant and sparse. Rempis and Jackson sound as searching for melodic, playful free jazz dynamics while Wodrascka, Orins, and Lasserre focus on sound-oriented free-improvisation, but soon all find common ground and dive into a heated, collective conversation of five strong-minded, “forces of nature” as The Bridge call them. And already on the second piece “Cristatus” this quintet establishes a stimulating interplay that challenges the ecstatic, free jazz aesthetics of Rempis and Jackson with the abstract and elusive sonic paintings of Wodrascka, Orins and Lasserre. This interplay intensifies later on and the following pieces “Ukh Ukh” and “Gu Gu Gu” stress the profound affinity of Rempis and Jackson and the imaginative and detailed rhythmic conception of the French rhythm section. On the last “Gu Gu Gu” it is clear that both sides assimilated ideas from the languages and syntax of each side and expanded their improvisation strategies. This piece swings naturally between driving rhythmic patterns and minimalist and abstract sonic searches.

McPhee / Rempis / Reid /Lopez / Nilssen-Love - Of Things Beyond Thule Volume 2 (Aerophonic, 2020) ****

The second volume of this ad-hoc quintet, created by chance, and featuring heavyweights as Joe McPhee on Pocket trumpet and tenor sax, Remips on alto and baritone saxes, cellist Tomeka Reid, double bass player Brandon Lopez, and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, is different from the first volume (Aerophonic, 2020) that offered slow, contemplative development of one, extended piece. This volume offers four free-improvised pieces that ebb and flow in their own accord between lyrical and reserved conversations and powerful eruptions. Both volumes were recorded on the same warm and intimate night at the Hungry Brain club in Chicago in December 2018.

This volume highlights McPhee's unique gift to articulate - including with vocals - simple, elegant melodies, often with only a few phrases. McPhee’s dark, warm tone immediately sets the spirit of every piece, and again and again, brings the quintet into quick focus. Rempis wraps McPhee’s wise gestures with lush harmonies full of cinematic and quiet, pastoral beauty that distill his full arsenal of sound. Their beautiful, emotional conversations are the center of this volume,. The ferocious outbursts of the rhythm section of Nilssen-Love, Lopez, and Reid cleverly contrast these deep talks, but the whole quintet never loses sight of their collective mission. Or as Rempis puts it: “a genuine understanding of how to be responsible to and for one another”.

Rempis / Rosaly Duo - Codes/Myths (Aerophonic, 2020) ****

Rempis calls the almost twenty years musical relationship with former Chicagoan, now Amsterdam-based percussionist Frank Rosaly a once-in-a-generation variety. These close friends have worked together as a duo since 2004, and later on in Rempis Percussion Quartet, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten Chicago Sextet, and Pandelis Karayorgis Quintet, have seen one another through various relationships, family trials and tribulations, and other life-defining moments. These experiences solidified a unique musical affinity that is singular in its intimacy and its strength.

Codes/Myths was recorded live at the Elastic Arts club in Chicago in January 2018, and you can sense instantly the sheer emotional joy of two old friends rediscovering each other, feeling totally relaxed, completely at home. There is no anxious rush to explore and exhaust musical ideas or to reach cathartic climaxes but to suggest a mature and confident vision of two experienced improvisers who take their time and investigate every ramification of one another’s statements and all aspects of their highly nuanced rhythmic interplay. The extended pieces “Patterns in Distance”, with Rempis on the baritone sax, and the shorter one “Air in Between'' sound like deep and soulful meditations with some melancholic colors on life’s struggles but also on the comfort of profound friendship and only close to its conclusions settle on delicate grooves. The shorter piece “Glitch” and the last, extended “Aletheia'' offer some insight into the raw, kinetic energy of this duo, documented on their previous album (Cyrillic, 482 music, 2009), but, still, both pieces develop in a patient manner.

Rempis says that Codes/Myths is “more than a record, it’s a living illustration of the human as social animal, and transparent expression of how intimate that can be”. Say no more.