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Friday, November 27, 2020

Rempis/ Parker/ Flaten/ Cunningham ‒ Stringers and Struts (Aerophonic, 2020) ****

By Stuart Broomer

Stringers and Struts presents an ad hoc quartet of Chicago regulars and returnees. Saxophonist Dave Rempis had been playing in a duo with drummer Jeremy Cunningham, a strong post-bop drummer who plays regularly with Marquis Hill, and saw upcoming visits by two long-term associates, guitarist Jeff Parker and bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, as an opportunity to expand the project. The group played a late-night after-session at Elastic Arts during the 2019 Chicago Jazz Festival, and this CD presents the results.

Rempis is a free jazz master, able to launch an extended improvisaton with a few fragments of melody and an underlying rhythmic force, and he’s in pretty much ideal company here, creating music with consistent drive and invention. There are three pieces here, two long and one short, with Rempis devoting one each to his tenor, alto and baritone saxophones.

“Cutwater” begins as a bittersweet tenor ballad gradually pulled together in the responsive lines of Parker’s guitar. A few unusual interval choices, sudden digressions and skewed runs gradually suggest the potential scale of its inner complexities, until Flaten and Cunningham pick up the pieces and set the ground for the coming maelstrom, a quicksilver dialogue to which every member contributes, until the bent metallic guitar chords, hortatory saxophone, dramatic drum rolls and extended strummed bass chords break up, giving ground to a Parker interlude. The guitarist builds his own strong music out of electronic flutters, colliding chords and eerie, fragmented fluttering runs, Flaten’s eventual bowed support creating strange string allegiances before Rempis’s incantatory, keening tenor and Cunningham’s own abstractions return. A four-way search for solid ground turns into an extended meditation that leads to an ultimate and powerful symmetry.

Apart from the fact that its form is spontaneous, the 25-minute “Harmany” has numerous touchstones, from a sweetly intense alto sound that can stretch from the fullness of Cannonball Adderley bop to the tartly inflected pitches of Jimmy Lyons, and a stylistic range that touches on up-tempo bop to blues and ballad and Latin jazz, including, early on, more than an “acknowledgement” of John Coltrane’s opening theme for A Love Supreme, initiated by Rempis and happily reworked by all concerned. “Harmany” is an occasion that each band member will rise to, whether it’s Parker’s glittering lyricism and hand-in-glove counter-melodies, Flaten’s rapid up-takes, making spontaneous shifts sound perfectly natural or Cunningham’s explosive and liberated hard-bop energies.

There’s more of that spontaneous composition on the brief concluding “Caviste,” made even more remarkable for its concision. It begins in an assembling of noises, baritone saxophone flutters and whispers, wayward guitar harmonics and a struck cymbal, only to assemble into the gentlest of spontaneous tunes from Remplis, with Parker gradually adding a counter line and Flaten and Cunningham putting together a dancing rhythmic undercurrent. The voices gather momentum, the groove strengthens until it’s a carnival explosion that disappears just as it arrived, a sweet evanescent melodic event.