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Monday, November 21, 2022

Dave Rempis/Elisabeth Harnik/Michael Zerang - Astragaloi (Aerophonic, 2022)

By Martin Schray

The day before I wrote this, I was at a concert of this band consisting of Dave Rempis (saxophones), Elisabeth Harnik (piano) and Michael Zerang (percussion). It was probably the best free show I’ve seen this year, as the trio offered a complete range of what makes this music so fascinating. It was certainly an advantage that the concert was in the middle of a small European tour, so the musicians were already rehearsed. The three were somnambulistically confident, everyone seemed to know what they had to do.

The same applies to their third album, released shortly before the tour (the first - Wistfully - came out in 2016, Triple Tube then in 2019). On Astragaloi the excitement of the music initially draws from the special instrumentation, because the bass-less piano trio has always been both a challenge and sonic experiment in one, just think of the legendary Schlippenbach Trio. Rempis, Harnik and Zerang have developed a sound space that is truly their own in the nearly ten years they have been playing together. This sound space is opened up even further, the three musicians push a little closer to their tonal barriers. It’s like a galaxy of its own that keeps expanding. They pack everything into this growing sound space, every musical thought, every musical reference is welcome to them: the harsh noises, the apparent contradictions and above all the contrasts, which make the music so exciting: Rempis combines free improvisation with emotional honesty and fire-breathing dynamics, Harnik uses a whole range of sounds with pure expressivity, she connects European abstraction with Tayloresque clusters, and Zerang mixes his very own delicacy with the Middle Eastern percussion tradition. This is most evident in “Lafo Litupa“, the album’s nearly 15-minute centerpiece. At first, all the stops of abstraction are pulled out, Harnik tracing the interior of the piano, Zerang stroking the skins of his drums. The improvisation seems wild, choppy and shot up, the percussive nature of the music taking center stage. Then Harnik shifts to a muffled keynote and Rempis’s runs get going. It seems as if three rivers have converged and now form a raging torrent that cannot be stopped washing everything away. Harnik whips the two men forward with her clusters and runs before the stream enters calmer realms to finally plunge downhill again in a crescendo. This whole process happens very organically and flows astonishingly easily. But the highlights on this album - as in the live concert - are the quieter pieces, like “Macateta“ and “Goat’s-thorn“. Here Rempis can indulge his penchant for melody without slipping into kitsch. This is free jazz of the old school.

Astragaloi is an excellent album, the five pieces prove how varied the spectrum of this trio is. A real recommendation.

Astragaloi is available as a CD and a download. You can listen to it an buy it here:


Fotis Nikolakopoulos said...

Astragaloi, which means ankles in greek, come out on vinyl as well, from the Austrian label Idyllic Noise//