January 6, 2018
Larry Ochs Sax and Drumming Core
Wild Red Yellow
The Rempis Percussion Quartet
Two post-modern saxophonists playing three of their own extended compositions backed up by a drum team plus. That’s the simple description of these discs showcasing Bay area tenor and sopranino saxophonist Larry Ochs’ six-member Sax and Drumming Core and Chicago-based alto, tenor and baritone saxophonist Dave Rempis’ four-piece Percussion Quartet. Yet like juxtaposing Chicago and Berkley because they’re both cities, there are more differences than similarities between the two exciting discs.
Rova co-founder Ochs has worked with variations of this drums-and-saxophone concept for years. But this is his largest configuration, not only featuring three resourceful percussionists – Scott Amendola, Matthias Bossi and William Winant – but also joining the trumpet of Natsuki Tamura and the piano and synthesizer of Satoko Fujii to stack up with Ochs against the drum corps. With his Percussion Quartet constituted since 2004, Rempis, known for his work in the Vndermark5, balances his mufti-reed expositions with contributions from drummers Frank Rosaly and Tim Daisy, with bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten refereeing both sides.
Instructionally both CDs include two massive improvisations bookending a shorter amuse-gueule. In Rempis’ case the introductory tour-de-force is the nearly 33 minute “Straggler” which allows him to explore and expose every tonal and timbral variation from his saxophone collection that includes rhino-basso snorts to aviary altissimo peeps as the bassist holds onto the rhythm and the drummers decorate the narrative with ruffs, paradiddles and other rococo colorations. One-third of the way through, Håker Flaten straps on his electric bass and subsequently shapes string reverberations into jiggling wave forms that could come from a synthesizer. With these enhancements, Rempis pushes out low-pitched baritone-sax vapors, and then using consistent grace notes from his alto, slides first into a romantic, then a swinging exposition. Concentrating on cymbals, pumps and rims the drummers’ attuned contributions propel the piece forward more with feel than fuss. Although the dynamics suggest that the track could keep evolving infinitely, it climaxes with the saxophonist vocalizing tremolo phrasing.
If Rempis’ tenor saxophone model is Sonny Rollins, on alto saxophone,, as he demonstrates on “Enzymes”, he uses tremolo pitches and stutters, to suggest early Ornette Coleman. Masticating canine yelps and rooster crows he maintains the piece’s tension through stop-time and freak notes as the drummers fluidly churn the rhythm and the bassist works his way down the strings to join the saxophonist in an a emphasized but somewhat prosaic ending.
The synthesizer allusions on the other CD are reified on Wild Red Yellow as Fujii sometimes adds spectral jitters and tremolo whooshes to the mix. But her targeted pianism actually brings more to the mix, especially when the triple percussionists are smacking every manner of Mylar and skin, bending cymbals, ringing gongs, and shaking maracas to add rhythmic detailing to the tracks. At the same time Ochs has Robin with Batman-like back-up from Tamura, whose contributions range from Noh theatre-like growls, steam boast-like whistles and more generally hand-muted cries or staccato, spittle-encrusted attacks.
This teamwork is most pronounced on the CD’s two extended tracks, “Omenicity (for Julie Taymor)” and the title track, subtitled “(for David Cronenberg)”. All key percussion and reed wiggles from Ochs, his echoing exposition on the first is given added poignancy by the trumpeter’s ghostly gargles. Blustering and thundering with a touch of pathos the two – reinforced by keyboard slaps – face down the drum cacophony to a conclusive rapprochement. More cinematic, “Wild Red Yellow (for David Cronenberg)”, has an enhanced narrative as well. Working up from distant synthesizer whooshes, keening reed cries and tender brass sprawls, the piece explodes into Trane-like glossolalia and trumpet overblowing, letting Fujii’s slide on the piano keys make common cause with the drummers rhythmic invention as the two horn players explore and expose the inner workings of their instruments’ body tubes. Finally kazoo-like brass tones and splintering reed vibrations unite with patched synth noises and reverberating gongs to reach a polyphonic crescendo followed by a gratifying climax.
Although two heads are said to be better than one, in contrast many drummers may not be better than a single one. However with things put in the proper balance, as on these CDs, bombast is at minimum and perception at maximum.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Cochonnerie: 1. Straggler 2. Green and Black 3. Enzymes
Personnel: Cochonnerie: Dave Rempis (alto, tenor and baritone saxophones); Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (bass, electric bass) and Frank Rosaly and Tim Daisy (drums)
Track Listing: Wild: 1. Omenicity (for Julie Taymor) 2. A Sorcerer’s Tale 3. Wild Red Yellow (for David Cronenberg)
Personnel: Wild: Natsuki Tamura (trumpet); Larry Ochs (tenor and sopranino saxophones); Satoko Fujii (piano and synthesizer); Scott Amendola (drums, percussion, electronics); Matthias Bossi (thunder drum, Chinese gongs, shaky flotsam, percussion) and William Winant (timpani, roto-toms, percussion)