November 10, 2003
Twenty Minute Cliff
Okka Disk OD12045
482 Music 1016
Every three decades or so Chicago improvisers become the focus of the music world — or perhaps the rest of the planet merely catches up with whats been happening in the Windy City all along.
This first took place in the late 1920s when Young Lions such as Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines revolutionized jazz music with a solo-oriented approach. Then in the mid-1960s, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Music (AACM) appeared with explorers like Roscoe Mitchell and Muhal Richard Abrams who showed that Free Music could be complex and meticulous as well as blues-based and emotional. Fast forward to the 21st century, and everyone from Austrian laptopers to German ecstatic soloists appears to be working with a new wave of Chicago-based players.
Fulcrum on which this all rests is multi-reedist Ken Vandermark, whose numberless groups, endless promotion and MacArthur genius grant status help spread the word. In truth, the essence of the new Chicago Sound isnt that much different from what perspicuous improvisers are doing elsewhere: adding their own spin to ideas and influences from everywhere.
Sometimes, though, hubris gets in the way, as a comparison of these CDs by players from the Vandermark circle demonstrates. Bassist Jason Roebkes Rapid Croche trio has created an almost wholly satisfying session of eight Roebke compositions. On the other hand, the CD by saxophonist Dave Rempis Triage trio, recorded only a month previous to RAPID CROCHE and with the same drummer, isnt as stimulating. Clocking in at almost double the length of Roebkes, TWENTY MINUTE CLIFF is laden with extraneous material.
Rempis, best-known as the second reedist in the Vandermark5, is an evolving saxophonist who seems anxious to try out different styles on the nine self-penned compositions that make up his disc. That means hell be exploring the microscopic intricacies of BritImprov-like insect music at one point or be rocking out on a near honky-tonk tenor sax groove elsewhere. But will the real Dave Rempis please stand up?
His partners here do the best they can under the circumstances., bringing their varied experience to the fore. Daisy, who is now also a member of the Vandermark5 and in some of that multi-reedists larger projects, is part another band featuring keyboardist Jim Baker, a longtime associate of AACM saxman Fred Anderson, Rempis and Roebke, while bassist Jason Ajemian has a duo with reedist Matt Bauder, and is part of Dragons 1976 with Daisy and woodwind player Aram Shelton, who is also in Rapid Croche. Starts to sound like the genealogy of the British Royal Family doesnt it?
Ajemians buzzy walking bass and Daisys brush work fold into a serpentine, swinging beat on Lamento meeting up with Rempis sluicing flutter tonguing and squeaking reed tones. The piece has a memorable, irregular pulse, but like others here, it seems to end without making a summary statement. Additionally, guitar-like strumming characterize the bassists work on Glass as it and the drummers cross-sticking metronomic pulse complement the alto saxist splattering split-toned mewls and trills all over the tune. Happily, at 10 minutes on the nose, this composition has a definite shape, which cant be said for the four [!] other pieces of about the same length.
Longest and most disappointing is Portrait of the Stone Age, which besides being pretentious seems to move at the pace of Ice Age glaciers receding. Beginning with ponderous bass and bass drum sounds plus reverberations that may be pressure on unselected cymbals, it picks up midway through with some African-sounding drum drags and ruffs and irregular vibrations from Rempis tenor. Again it seems just to end rather than come to a resolution.
Thats why Mohandiseen, a straightforward, Gene Ammons-style rhythm tune with a walking bass line and shuffle beat works so well. Rempis double tongues and peeps out the odd note and adds a few bottom-of-the-bow honks as well. Because the tune is relaxed as well as short, sharp and spiky, it appear that no one — especially the composer — is trying to prove anything — and the endproduct is better for it.
Elsewhere Daisy produces sounds that could come from a talking drum or a gamelan and adds his cowbell and woodblocks — not to mention moistened finger pressure on a drumhead — to the proceedings where theyre needed.
This sort of versatility also comes in handy on RAPID CROCHE. Overall, though, Roebke, who wrote all the compositions as well, seems to have decided what and how to play, while Rempis is still trying on different styles.
Someone whose experience encompasses collaborations with Japanese musicians in that country, dance groups, membership in Tigersmilk with cornetist Rob Mazurek and drummer Dylan van der Schyff, plus sideman work with cellist Fred Lonberg-Holms Valentine Trio and Terminal 4, Roebke has made Rapid Croche his working trio for the past two years. It shows. While the bassists morose take on things compositionally could use with some livening up, each piece at least seems to reach the target at which it aims.
Its Enough and Like You Thought It Might Be, for instance, are andante excursions informed by the type of jiggly rhythms Ornette Coleman introduced with his Prime Time band. With a reed tone here midway between Colemans and AACMer Henry Threadgill, who sometimes works the same territory, Shelton turns out a perky, shaded solo on the later tune, then growls out split tones from his body tube. On the former he reed bites, flutter tongues and changes the pitch as he plays, concentrating his sound into a claxon-like tone as Daisy drags and paradiddles. Shuffle rhythms predominate on the later with Roebke showcasing a four-to-the-bar beat on an elongated solo.
Whatever You Think Is Beautiful, guided by unison trilling clarinet and bowed bassline, moves forward in reedy lockstep as if Roebke was playing bass clarinet instead of the stringed kind. Daisy contributes mallet sounds on his drum heads and the tune ends with the undertow of Sheltons constricted reed tone joining the bassists double-stopping arco line.
In other spots Roebkes production ranges from powerful, near swinging string tugs and melancholy, bowed bass lines to spidery rubberband-like speed. Also, while Shelton may introduce a slow moving, but vibrated full clarinet tone, on faster tempos his fluid runs are as light as those played by Jimmy Noone when Hines was his sideman in the 1920s.
RAPID CROUCHE confirms the creative Chicago continuum that has lasted from the 1920s to the 21st century, and outlines what can be done with a concentrated trio effort. TWENTY MINUTE CLIFF is more iffy, though a good effort. Still if the amount of music described in the title would have been cut from the CD, Rempis and friends may too have created an exceptional 50-minute session.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Twenty: 1. Angles of 90° 2. Leos Leaving the Room 3. Sound Sound 4. Sun Dawgs 5. Lamento 6. Mohandiseen 7. Portrait of the Stone Age 8. River Rouge 9. Glass
Personnel: Twenty: Dave Rempis (alto and tenor saxophones); Jason Ajemian (bass); Tim Daisy (drums)
Track Listing: Rapid: 1. Please 2. Sensor 3. Any American 4. Whatever You Think Is Beautiful 5. Its Enough 6. Like You Thought It Might Be 7. Just Before It Starts 8. Northern Cross
Personnel: Rapid: Aram Shelton (alto saxophone and clarinet); Jason Roebke (bass); Tim Daisy (drums)