January 3, 2014
The Rempis Percussion Quartet
Leo Records CD LR 683
Although the concept of having two drummers as part of an improvising ensemble isn’t a new one, it must be done judiciously so the percussion doesn’t overwhelm the other players. The situation is especially problematic when dealing with as few as four musicians, but both sessions here are organized so that this atypical make-up doesn’t impede creativity.
At the same time each session differ from the other due to the choice of individual chordal instrument. Phalanx, recorded in Antwerp and Milwaukee is held together during four extensive blow-outs by the powerful bass work of Norwegian-turned Texan Ingebrigt Håker Flaten. Together in different configurations since 2004, the percussion part of The Rempis Percussion Quartet is made up of Frank Rosaly and Tim Daisy, both of whom are in-demand on the expanding Chicago improv scene. Dave Rempis, who plays alto, tenor and baritone saxophone on the disc, is best known for his work in the Vandermark5.
Frequently as fragmented and ferocious in his improvising as Rempis, Brazilian tenor saxophonist Ivo Perelman helms Engima, backed by two percussionists with whom he has often recorded in other contexts: Whit Dickey and Gerald Cleaver. The variant on this CD is that the fourth player is Matthew Shipp, another long-time Perelman associate. During the CD’s eight shorter selections, Shipp’s piano often creates needed textures that suggest refinement as well as roughness.
Moving among his horns, Rempis’ main mode is go-for-broke improvising, shronking and smoking to the edges of the reed’s and metal’s endurance. However while a track such as the mammoth “Anti-Goons” may on the saxophonist’s part, at first appear to be an exercise in iron-lunged cacophony, amplified with thunderous rumbles from the drummers and spelled by the bassist’s iron-fingered plucks, a closer listen reveals much more. Among the multiphonic variations, subtler suggestions arise. At junctures Rempis’ narrowed tone could come from a musette or ney; at others some half-remember American songbook classic is referenced and then deconstructed beyond recognition in a nanosecond. Crucially, mid-way through the sequence when the tempo stabilizes to a sweeping sway, Rempis literally quotes the famous head from “Giant Steps”. Subsequently the drummers draw back to give the bassist and saxist enough room to mutually and expressively propel a flat-line narrative. Håker Flaten’s supple string skill is such that he’s able to winnow the sonic assault back to moderated vibrations for a satisfying climax.
As raucously performed; and this time but with a pseudo honky-tonk feel, “Cream City Stomp” allows the drummers more latitude. Clunking metal bits and popping tops, the two maintain a sloppy Mingusian backbeat which links almost-unmanageable pressure to a pulsating beat. With the bassist loping beside him like a helpful lab assistant, Rempis take on the role of a committed researcher. Every tone, timbre and trill is stretched to its limit as slurs, spits and swallows are individual examined – sometimes a capella – and eventually accepted as part of a masculine slur. All this is seconded by bass stomps and sizzling cymbal vibration.
Enigma is a different matter. While Rempis’ configuration is long-standing, Perelman’s dual drum experiment is just one of the many CDs the saxophonist has released with different bands with rabbit-like fecundity over the past couple of years. More so than Håker Flaten as well, Shipp adds an elegant tone to many of the tracks. As Perelman’s tenor saxophone twists itself into figurative knots triple tonguing, leaping to altissimo squeals and falling to stentorian phrase buzzing, the pianist brings forward an intermezzo-like calmness. He has to do so. The Perelman reed process is such that it frequently seems as if the emotions expressed can be seen as well as heard.
“Ritual” and “Bourgois Ideal”, the lengthiest tracks, also encapsulate the CD’s entire strategy, although their near contradictory titles indicate ways in which the material is approached. Despite resembling a title from a late-Trane LP, and despite Perelman’s almost visceral reassessment of his horn’s energy on “Ritual”, the Brazilian is actually a more moderato soloist than Trane. You hear this when Dickey and Cleaver whacking and rumbling like reincarnated Elvin Jones and Rashied Ali, Perelman contrapuntally breaks through percussion density with an almost jaunty melody. When he proceeds to reduce his expression to small animal-like cries, Shipp picks up the narrative and embellishes it with low-frequency patterns from the piano’s bottom pitches. With the stickmen like seconds in a dual, adding ratamacues and rat-tat-tats, Shipp and Perelman coalesce the output into exciting sounds waves reach bagpipe-chanter vibrations and climaxes with singular, opposing puffs.
Equally fascinating, “Bourgois Ideal” comes across as having a traditional Blues centre inside a hard shell of free-form sound experimentation; at least as far as Shipp’s improvisations are concerned. His dark chording connects easily with more traditional forms. It’s only when the saxophonist begins slyly adding multiphonics and slurs to the chromatic theme that it splinters. It’s here that the dual drumming strategy is best put to use, as Cleaver and Dickey decorate the result with pile-driver resolution. Crucially the pianist maintains an upright, free-flowing line in spite of this concentrated clatter, plus the latter onslaught of Perelman’s stuttering whines and pointillist reed bites.
Besides the sounds showcased on these sets, the CDs are also enjoyable for what isn’t heard – unrelenting percussion excess. For that reason Daisy, Rosaly, Cleaver and Dickey can claim a good portion of the praise for creating outstanding programs.
Track Listing: Phalanx: Disc 1: 1. Alonquins 2. Cream City Stomp Disc 2: Anti-goons 2. Croatalus Adamantoohs
Personnel: Phalanx: Dave Rempis (alto, tenor and baritone saxophones); Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (bass) and Frank Rosaly and Tim Daisy (drums)
Track Listing: Enigma: 1. Enigma 2. Irresistible Incarnation 3. Annunciation 4. Supernatural Life 5. Return to Nature 6. Ritual 7. Gentle as a Fawn 8. Bourgois Ideal
Personnel: Enigma: Ivo Perelman (tenor saxophone); Matthew Shipp (piano); Whit Dickey and Gerald Cleaver (drums)