Rempis/Abrams/Ra

Aphelion
Aerophonic Records 004

When it comes to expressing pure improv, age is just a number. How else to explain the heartbeat-close interaction of this CD featuring two Chicago improvisers in mid-career and one veteran Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) member?

Although saxophonist Dave Rempis and string player Joshua Abrams are best-known for their affiliations with bands such as those led by Ken Vandermark and Nicole Mitchell, both have an interest in sounds that go beyond those of conventional Jazz. On this CD for instance Abrams plays the guimbri or round-necked Sahara lute and small harp as well as his usual double bass. Meantime AACMer Ra, who has played with everyone from Fred Anderson to Ernest Dawkins, brings his collection of ethnic percussion to the program.

That doesn’t mean that any detours into so-called World Music are part of the performance however. Abrams’ may introduce and color the sound picture with sequences that alternate Africanized strums and regular rhythms, but it doesn’t keep him from exposing low-focused time-keeping from his bass most of the time. Similarly Ra’ percussion forays that involve all parts of his kit plus vibrations and hammering from additional small instruments are not pseudo-ethnic gimmicks. Truthfully their use owes their origin to the explorations of Free Jazz drumming pioneered by the likes of Sunny Murray rather than any patterns you would hear in the Maghreb or the Niger delta.

Ranged alongside Abrams’ string slices and smacks plus the taunt strokes and buzzing screeds of Ra’s percussion are Rempis’ alto and baritone saxophone extensions. His strategy is both emotional and methodical. On the lower-pitched horn for instance, it frequently sounds as if he’s chewing off ragged portions of the music and spitting out the bloody multiphonic chunks. On alto, as on “Saqiya”, his tone is more moderate though. However when he links a collection of whistles and tonal wiggles so that they swell into tremolo warbles, the resulting inflated partials are numerous enough to replicate the timbres of an entire sax section. Ecstatic altissimo cries from both horns serve as punctuation. But such is his reed command – and the skill of the other players – that his solos never lose control and pass the point of no return.

Slippery asides and limber rhythm motions may slither back and forth to join up with melismatic blowing, but relaxed dynamics from each trio member keep the performances on an even keel. In short, exotic instrumentation and pliable rhythms may make Aphelion appear as if it’s performing outside of standard Jazz pacing –whatever that is – but the multi-generational trio’s orbit is actually directed towards the essence of profound improvised music.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Aphelion: 1. Ruah 2. Noria 3. Saqiya.

Personnel: Aphelion: Dave Rempis (alto and baritone saxophones); Joshua Abrams (bass, guimbri and small harp) and Avreeayl Ra (percussion)