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Monday, February 15, 2021

Triage - Live at the Velvet Lounge (Aerophonic, 2020) ***(*)

By Stephen Griffith

Triage was a fascinating group for me because the Vandermark 5 used to occasionally play in nearby venues in the 90s as part of short midwestern tours. When Dave Rempis and Tim Daisy replaced Mars Williams and Tim Mulvenna respectively, it shook things up in nicely unexpected ways in terms of adding new lyrical voices to the quintet. Those two subsequently added bassist Jason Ajemian to explore a trio persona in an exciting spinoff called Triage. In doing background work for this I revisited their recordings in my collection (Premium Plastics on Solitaire Records and Twenty Minute Cliff and American Mythology on Okka Disk; the limited edition Stagger on Utrech, recorded live in Syracuse, New York, oddly eluded me) and found they held up quite well 15 years, or more, later.

Which brings us to the current digital only recording, a first set recorded at the iconic Velvet Lounge in early 2005 while Fred Anderson still ran the place and provided a workshop of sorts for the group to develop their material. Two of the songs, “Rotor” and “Cape Coast” were included on Stagger but the nearly 21 minute “No Fires” appears only on this release. Over the course of Triage’s short existence it seemed like Rempis went from being primarily an alto player to steadily improving his prowess on tenor and eventually adding the baritone saxophone to his repertoire. “No Fires” leads off with brawny rapidfire DKV like extended tenor runs through a series of groove based motifs, leaning on one briefly before moving on with Daisy and Ajemian locked in. The tenor fades out as Daisy continues the rattling rhythm pattern before slowing things down as Ajemian returns with bowed lines over which Rempis returns with trilled lines before returning to the opening motif and further developments before winding things down into a leisurely rhythm before a plaintive restatement of the theme concludes a deceptively well structured composition. “Rotor” features an Ornetteish alto romp with Daisy tossing in playful cymbal and snare accents as Ajemian maintains the beat. Daisy takes an inventive solo, like a kid with a chemistry set only mixing percussive reagents, before Rempis returns with the baritone to mix things up with deftly smeary big horn resonances before joining Jason to quietly create a slow pulsing rhythm augmented by Tim’s mallets. “Cape Coast" begins with a plaintive tenor theme after which Ajemian plays some strenuous bowing creating a cinema noirish waterfront vibe before fading out to end the well received set.

In the summer following this, Ajemian relocated to New York ending the group as a replacement bassist wasn't considered. Rempis and Daisy have continued their musical relationship with the Rempis/Daisy Duo, the Rempis/Piet/Daisy Trio, Tim Daisy’s Fulcrum Ensemble and the Rempis Percussion Quartet to only name a few. Jason Ajemian has kept active with Jaimie Branch’s Fly or Die and with the Exploding Star Orchestra. But this release provides an enjoyably welcome end point to their collaboration as Triage.

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