October 21, 2016
Rempis/Abrams/Ra + Baker
An honest representation of club work in Chicago, this two-CD set is analogous to viewing the dailies in a film shoot. Multi-reedist Dave Rempis’ long-running trio with bassist Joshua Abrams, who is familiar with both Jazz and ethic sounds, plus veteran Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (ACCM) percussionist Avreeayl Ra, stretches out during one long improvisation on disc one, while eccentric keyboardist Jim Baker, who has worked with everyone from Ken Vandermark to Michael Zerang joins the trio on disc two.
A working group, Rempis/Abrams/Ra us dedicated to interpolating atonal contemporary motifs within the Jazz continuum represented by the AACM. To this end, like a golfer searching through his bag for the proper iron to make a shot, Rempis is featured on alto, tenor and baritone saxophones for tonal variety. Meanwhile Ra’s unforced percussion overlay and Abrams darting bass lines join except at the wistful coda of “Enceladus” during which each respectively and briefly outputs wooden flute and clarinet timbres.
Before that, at junctures the 43-minute track could have climbed out of the Wayback Machine from a New Thing session of the late 1960s. Especially on his two smaller horns, Rempis’ harsh flutter tonguing and split tone overblowing is such that at points his expanded glossolalia approaches speaking-in-tongues intensity. Vibrating double-bass plucks pulled with cross-bow-like strength aid this, while Ra, whose recording credits stretch from stints with Ernest Dawkins’ groups to Sun Ra’s bands, supplies his own narration, cementing the momentum with chiming bass drum emphasis. Like a canny dog walker letting his charge go move away with an extended leash, but reeling in before the situation gets out of hand, the bassist nonchalantly calms the situation so that the tune’s climax is Ra’s rhythms and Rempis’ baritone saxophone smears layering to suggest a combination of a folk melody and “Boogie Stop Shuffle” played by Leo Parker. This is where the vulnerabilities of a live date are obvious. Before the conclusive reed-harmonized fade, the trio continues to run the FreeBop changes longer than necessary.
Recorded five months later at another Chicago outlet, Baker’s presence on keyboard and electronics find the material both enhanced and lessened. As comfortable in his Free Jazz skin as a zebra is with his stripes, Baker’s hyper-extended glissandi and heartbeat synced comping is as fine as ever. But the sound of his instrument here is occasionally so tinny that when he steps forward for a showcase, it’s difficult to determine whether the discordance displayed is a genuine trope or a tuning malfunction. What results are high-quality sounds that try to straddle both banks of advanced and mainstream Jazz. Keeping his range dynamic and mostly on alto saxophone, Rempis’ strategy is the saving grace. Managing to be both mellow and multiphonic it turns into a mythical chain that links Lego-like methodical piano pumps, walking bass notes and understated swing accents from Ra.
Valuable as a snapshot of one of Rempis’ many working groups – and how it adapts to another player’s contributions – some of the sounds here are a bit flabby. Under the operating theatre-like conditions of a recording studio, deft surgery could have tightened the performances, but also excised spontaneity. Maybe the three plus Baker should head off to a studio, record and release the results.
Track Listing: Disc 1: 1. Enceladus Disc 2: 1. Cassini Division* 2. Pan and Daphnis*
Personnel: Dave Rempis (alto, tenor and baritone saxophones); Jim Baker (keyboard and electronics)*; Joshua Abrams (bass and clarinet) and Avreeayl Ra (drums and wooden flute)