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Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Rempis Percussion Quartet - Harvesters (Aerophonic Records, 2023)

By Martin Schray

Dave Rempis is not only a musician, he is also a label owner. Almost all of his releases are distributed on Aerophonic Records, a 100% artist-run label created by him ten years ago. The label’s first album was Phalanx, by the Rempis Percussion Quartet (RPQ), a band he runs together with drummers Frank Rosaly and Tim Daisy, which has now made it to eleven albums. Since the fourth, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten has joined RPQ on bass. For the label’s tenth birthday, it’s therefore only logical that this band also celebrates the anniversary with a new album. In March this year, Harvesters was recorded in France, a country where RPQ had never played before, although they tour Europe regularly. In a packed week-long schedule, the band started in Tours, where they also organized a day of workshops and recordings. Unsurprisingly, the band received rave reviews on the first night in Tours, spurred on by their French debut as well as their first meeting in four years post-Pandemic and a full house.

The first part of Harvesters documents the second set of the performance that night, and “Everything Happens To You“ doesn’t take long to flare: a brief, rather restrained call to arms and off they go. Rosaly and Daisy push forward as usual, there’s always a pulse. The rhythm machine is never completely off the beat, but it’s a polyrhythmic drive forward, a typical RPQ characteristic. Supported by them, Rempis plays for six minutes in somnambulistic certainty and - knowing his abilities - he doesn’t lose his composure. In this part he shows exemplarily his whole spectrum: repetitive lines and runs, wild vibrato, interspersed with melodies, but blatantly overblown and played forward. What is more, it becomes clear which tradition he comes from: Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster as well as early Archie Shepp and Peter Brötzmann. It is he who pulls the cart and the rhythm section has to hurry to follow him (which musicians of this caliber do, of course). When he then drops out (another stylistic element the band likes to employ), he does so out of nowhere, but Håker Flaten, suddenly standing alone, catches the situation very confidently and plays an almost lyrical solo. The piece concludes by returning to the beginning. By RPQ standards, this part is extremely accessible, very melodic and meditative in parts, almost dreaming oneself into the French night as the musicians withdraw more and more from the improvisation. Rempis is almost a bit reminiscent of John Coltrane in the last two minutes of the music.

The second piece of the set, “The Exuberant Aubergine“, presents a new addition to the quartet’s previous recordings, as French trumpeter Jean Luc Cappozzo joins the band. Although the musical philosophy doesn’t change, the improvisation is more lyrical and playful. Cappozzo, who can be heard on flugelhorn here, fits into this well-rehearsed collective as if he had been with them all the time; he harmonizes excellently with Rempis in particular. How the lines of the two circle around each other is the actual sensation of this recording. Cappozzo’s warm tone is reminiscent of Bill Dixon, which leads to very contemplative moments, especially in the middle of the piece, where the two wind players tend to explore the sound of their instruments before taking off again into familiar free jazz realms.

The second part of the album then shows the band from a different side. The first track, “Spooky Action“, was recorded live at a morning workshop for children ages 8-18. After the set, the band worked with the younger audience members, all recent immigrants from Afghanistan, Syria, Sudan, Niger and Senegal. Knowing this, you can actually hear an African-Asian influence on “Spooky Action“, especially in terms of Rosaly’s and Daisy’s rhythm work. Rempis himself swings like on none of his recordings that I know of, shaking out riff after riff, rarely before has he sounded so upbeat.

The second and third tracks of the second part - “Little Fascists“ and “Fat Lip“ - were both recorded on the same stage as the concert and workshop, but this time without an audience. This is a rarity for RPQ, as they usually prefer the higher energy levels of the concerts for recordings. The studio recordings now bring out another quality of the band, a more melancholic, introspective one. What was already announced in “The Exuberant Aubergine“ is further explored here. The drums are less frantic, sometimes relying on sparsely placed cymbal sounds. The music is almost pointillist, mainly in “Little Fascists“.

Harvesters manages, even after eleven albums, to take new sides from the band. A worthy release for an anniversary.

Harvesters is available as a double CD and as a download. You can listen to “Spooky Action“ on the Aerophonic’s bandcamp site, where you can also order the album.