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Interviews

Dave Rempis: Communication, Improvisation and No Screwing Around

By Published: August 7, 2006
Dave RempisSaxophonist Dave Rempis embodies all of the best qualities of the Chicago improvisational music scene: he's a gifted but disciplined player who knows his instruments inside and out; he's a fearless, imaginative improviser; and he uncomplainingly works his ass off.

Although he also plays tenor and baritone saxophones, Rempis is best known as an altoist. Certainly, that's the horn he's on most often in the Vandermark 5, Chicago reedsman Ken Vandermark's flagship group and the band with which Rempis is most famously associated—at least out of town. But Rempis has been playing tirelessly for years, either as leader or co-collaborator, in a variety of great groups such as Triage, the Rempis/Daisy Duo, the Dave Rempis Quartet, the brand-new Engines, and the Rempis Percussion Quartet, an all-improv band whose debut studio effort, Rip Tear Crunch (482 Music, 2006), is one of the year's best—and most bracing—releases. I met with Rempis at a coffee shop in Chicago's Andersonville neighborhood during a rare hour in his life when he was not rehearsing, recording, curating or gigging. About all those activities, read on.

All About Jazz: I want to ask about all of the bands you're in, especially the ones you lead. Your newest band on record—I think the Engines are your just plain newest band—is the Rempis Percussion Quartet. This band recently released its debut CD, Rip Tear Crunch, on 482 Music. This is a group consisting of you, Tim Daisy and Frank Rosaly on drums and Anton Hatwich on bass. Before we get into the individual players or the music itself, let's just talk about the configuration, the concept of this group. You obviously wanted a band with only one horn and double percussion that was devoted to pretty much total improvisation. What inspired putting it together?

Dave Rempis: I think in a lot of ways it was just the musicians in the group and the way they play together. Tim and Frank, in particular, have a really unique relationship as percussionists. And I've always been interested in percussion music; in college I spent a year in Ghana studying West African music and ethnomusicology. In some ways, perhaps, I was looking to recreate some of the percussion ensembles that I'd heard there, so having two drummers sort of replicates that to some degree. So I think that's what we were going for initially.

AAJ: The first musician I'm going to ask about is so much more than one of the drummers in this band and on this record. That's Tim Daisy, who you play with in so many groups, both your own bands and in the Vandermark 5. Tim's really a huge collaborator of yours, so tell me about him. What do you like about playing with him and what does he add to the bands you lead?

DR: Tim and I have been working together since about 1997. The year I graduated from college, I started bartending at a club called the Bop Shop, the old Chicago jazz club. Tim was doing a weekly gig there and coming a lot for the weekly jam session on Tuesday nights, so I would see him a couple times a week, and we got to know each other and started playing together a lot. We've basically been working together regularly ever since in all these different projects, so I feel we've sort of developed this musical understanding or musical interrelationship. I think my favorite part about it is that Tim won't put up with any of my crap [laughing]. He knows my playing far too well and won't let me fall back on clichés. If I do stuff like that, I'm going to hear about it from him! So it's a really beneficial thing for me, in the sense that he keeps pushing me a lot, even though there is also this kind of shared understanding or shared development in regards to the music.

AAJ: Then there's Anton Hatwich on bass and Frank Rosaly on the other kit. Tell me about their role in this music.

DR: As far as roles go, I would say Anton is kind of the middleman between me and the two drummers; he's the anchor of the group. He's sort of steering things—I guess that makes him the rudder. He's really the one who's steering things over the long haul, since most of the things we do are long improvisations. I really feel like it's been his role to mediate between us and negotiate between where I'm pushing things and where the drummers are pushing things.

As for Frank, I feel like he and Tim have, as I've said before, this very interesting way of playing together for two drummers, where they aren't occupying the same space—which is really unusual for two drummers. I think it's something that they're able to do because they're both really sensitive musicians and because they have really different playing styles. So in a way, I think we're all equal partners in the same unit, but we do occupy different roles.

AAJ: This is completely improvised music. Every set is a new invention. You did the record back in February of 2005. Does this group still sound like the one playing on the CD? If every night's an improvisation, are you going into similar areas or are you constantly changing?

DR: I wouldn't say constantly changing. I think it's changing over a longer span of time. Tours are generally the place where things really develop; it's like a crucible, and that's a period of rapid growth and change. Whereas when we're in town, doing, generally speaking, one or two gigs a month—because with all the different groups we're involved in, that's about as much as I think we're able to find the time to play—change isn't so drastic. So a tour is where you'll see rapid change. But I think there is a connection, still, to what we're doing on the record. I think the biggest difference between the record and what we do live is that we kind of took the opportunity of being in the studio to try some different types of things—like, for example, to do some shorter pieces than we normally do in performance. The studio situation's obviously radically different than being on stage, and I think rather than try to fight with that, we decided to try to make it work for the record and actually try some different things.

AAJ: For the recording, or for that matter, in performance, do you tend to have any discussion beforehand—any desires stated about what you're going to cover that night?

DR: In performance—no, we don't. I think in a lot of ways, we have a pretty good shared feel for how performances should go in some sense. Part of the improvisation is really trying to come up with longer structures that basically work as compositions—where it's not just improvising from one moment to the next. It's trying to take into account the shape of the set, the shape of the particular composition, and I think everybody in this group is pretty adept at doing that. Everyone, for the most part, is a composer on their own; everyone leads their own groups. Everyone has a good sense of how to make things flow in a way that makes for interesting or—I don't want to say entertaining...

AAJ: Hey, it can be entertaining. I think it is.

DR: Yeah, it's a pretty visceral ensemble. It's not something that's completely abstract and obscure. It's very much hooked-in to a pretty driving rhythmic sensibility. And a melodic one, too.

AAJ: I know that it can be hard to talk about songs that you improvised over a year ago in a recording studio. But I want to ask about some of the songs on Rip Tear Crunch. I love the first song on the CD, "Shreds. I think it's a great beginning for the album, and kind of an effective demo for the listener of what the band does. It's grooving, it's polyrhythmic with what could be considered African rhythms, and Anton's bass, compared to the other three players, is somewhat minimal—as it is throughout the recording. You're on alto here. Any memory of this one?

DR: Oh, yeah, sure. I had to spend enough time listening to it when we were mixing it [laughing]. In a lot of ways, in terms of what you said, I think that's one of the reasons that we chose the piece to be the opener on the album—it's a pretty good introduction to some of the things we're dealing with, and a good jumping-off point for the rest of the record.

AAJ: I think my favorite piece on the album is "The Rub, which is the last one. It's the most abstract—the most like what people think of when they talk about "free jazz. This one starts off with some great alto against Anton's arco bass, just the two of you, although the drummers make up for lost time later on when it gets pretty thunderous and churning. There's a nice contrast here between rubato timelessness and a slowly introduced tempo until it's just cooking. Any insights into this piece?

DR: That's one we chose for its structure. It was sort of an unusual structure. There are a lot of different duo and trio sections that happen in there before the end, when the whole group kind of comes in and, as you said, it gets kind of cooking again. I think that structurally, that was an interesting piece and that's why it got included on the record.

AAJ: Did you record much stuff that didn't make the record?

DR: Yeah. All told, we probably had about two-and-a-half hours of stuff down that we boiled down to 55, 56 minutes. Most of the stuff we recorded didn't get on the record.

AAJ: Well, sequencing is very important.

DR: Definitely. Having spent a lot of time in different groups putting different records together, this is one that I was pretty happy with in terms of the flow of the record. I like it as a record itself, and not just the playing or particular pieces. I feel like the flow of the record works pretty well as a record.

AAJ: "Rip Tear Crunch is the real heart of the recording; it's 28 minutes of all kinds of stuff and I won't try to describe it all. But I do admire its structure; it's an improv, but there's an overall symmetry and structure I like. I think you're on several horns here—alto, tenor and baritone sax?

DR: I think it's just alto and baritone, actually.

AAJ: Fair enough. In any case, the end of the piece has a symmetry with the beginning. It made me think about how you as improvisers have to think about where it's going and where it'll end up—how to get out of it in the end so it's got some structure. Do you think about this when you're playing?

DR: Oh, yeah. Searching for ways to begin and end pieces is kind of the focus of good improvising. I mean, there are many standard ways to do that, whether it's harmonic cadences, or dynamic motions, or whatever. It's really a challenge. One thing about that piece that still kind of boggles my mind is that it is an improvisation and it's not something we talked about beforehand, but Anton and I start that piece off with these almost blues-like, repetitive licks, and we both just came in on that in the same key two clicks off on the metronome. And we rapidly adjusted within the first bar or so of music, so we were both in the same tempo. It was just sort of odd [laughing] that we both came in like that. I think it was the point in the recording session where things were really getting going, and that's what happens on stage a lot, too. But it's still interesting. That's one thing about that band that I really enjoy—that there's this shared sense of the music.

AAJ: I suppose that can only grow after five or six nights on a tour.

DR: Yeah, absolutely. I'm just starting to get some recordings back from the tour we did now, and I'm hoping to put out a live record from that tour. Night after night, it really felt great to be on the road with these guys. It felt like it was growing and that people were doing new things, pushing things. It felt really comfortable, too—with a lot of free improvising, there's a certain about of nervousness before you go on stage, even though this is what we do. It's like, "what's going to happen?

AAJ: Well, it might be bad.

DR: Yeah! That's the thing. It could be horrible [laughing]. But I pretty much continuously felt like we got up on stage and really played music. It was really exciting to be a part of that.

AAJ: As the leader of this band, is there any way that you are leading the improvisations when you're all playing? Are you driving and in charge, or is it four-way communication?

DR: I view it as four-way communication. Ostensibly, I'm the leader of the group, and in some ways that's musical. But more, it's about who books the gigs, who takes care of the logistics, that sort of thing. I put the band together around a certain thing I'm hearing, but I think that everybody in the band is in the band because they're also sharing in that aesthetic. I certainly don't view myself onstage as the person that's controlling things. It's a group. My own idea of this music is that it's collaborative, no matter whose band it may be. To me, that's a really important part of this kind of music. I'm not interested in being in a band in which I'm the leader. I'm much more interested in having strong personalities in the group who push things one way or another, or who make decisions onstage. That's a lot more interesting to me than telling people what to do or forcing people to do certain things.

AAJ: Well, that makes people flinchy anyway. Now I want to talk about your collaboration with Tim Daisy alone—when the two of you perform as a duo. This music has a lot of improvisation, but it has written sections—these are compositions you play more than once, and they have written parts, heads. You put out a CD last, Back to the Circle (Okka Disk, 2005), and I suspect you two'll be playing together forever. You both write for this band, although maybe you write more. I love the way Daisy plays when it's just you two: he's always imaginative, and he plays with such fierce concentration. It always feels like he just won't let the tunes get stale or settled. Got any insight into the Rempis/Daisy Duo? What does this band specialize in?

Dave RempisDR: Ah, god, I don't even know. That's part of the thing with it—every time we get on stage, we're playing compositions that we've been thinking about or dealing with for a while, but the flexibility of the duo format can just go in so many directions. And I think we both are interested in pushing it in those directions and away from where we've taken it before. The flexibility involved with it, I think, is really the biggest thing, because it's just so easy to really push things really far out, and yet still know how to connect it back to the composition to some degree. I think that's really the interesting challenge of the group: maintaining the compositional structures while at the same time throwing them out the window.

AAJ: Actually, I think a good example of that is the tune "Welcome. It starts off the CD, and you did it when I saw the two of you play a couple of weeks ago. To me, it's this band's greatest hit. It's got a very sweet theme, very mellow and memorable and you always find something great to improvise in it. When I saw you play it live, Daisy was at his most restless best here—he was really wrestling with the song, like he was determined to pull something new out of it. There's a nice way you two deconstruct it in the middle to rebuild it by the end. Any thoughts?

DR: Well, that one's kind of built on a sort of an A-A-B-A-type theme, where the B is a lot quicker, almost a free bop sort of thing where the head is a bit more weighty—well, not weighty, but just grounded, I guess. And I think a lot of what we've tried to do is figure out how to bounce back and forth in improvisation between those two types of feels. There's plenty of room, plenty of grey areas between those two things, and I think that's what we spend a lot of time exploring on that one.

AAJ: I suppose that songs like "Back to the Circle and "Clockwise are pretty demanding of the listener, pretty free by some people's standards. "Clockwise might even be a complete improv...

DR: Actually, it is the one improv on the record. It's a short free improvisation.

AAJ: But I think there's something about Rempis/Daisy that's really accessible and downright pleasant. Maybe it's the space between the players and maybe it's just that the songs are good—"Fast Cars and "Welcome are very memorable songs.

DR: I don't know. I think it's just how I hear things. I always listened to a ton of jazz—I grew up listening to it and love that music, although I don't necessarily consider myself a jazz musician per se. But it really informs what I do in so many different ways, and I guess that includes the accessibility of that. I love European improvised free music and I love a lot of other things. Personally, I'm very much interested in melody and rhythm and other, let's say, more traditional aspects of music, so it's kind of fun to bounce back and forth between these worlds of complete abstraction and more tangible or traditional ways of structuring music.

AAJ: Rempis/Daisy did a song I didn't know called "No Fires when I saw you play recently. You were on tenor for this one, which you actually play quite a bit. On this one I actually thought there was a Coltrane-ish quality to the playing on the tune that I hadn't heard in you before. Who knows if it was really there, but do you find that different horns bring out different sides of you?

DR: Oh, yeah, very much. Very much so. It's interesting—I started playing tenor in, I think, '99. Up to that time, I was an alto player who listened to tenor players and alto players and kind of took all that stuff in as an influence on alto. As soon as I started playing tenor, it was like, "oh, I can start to channel this stuff a little bit more. And now that I'm playing baritone as well, it's like, "well, I can sort of split these things up into the different horns, or I can still focus on channeling all of this stuff into each horn. And I think I'm trying to still focus on the latter, where it's just hearing the saxophone as an instrument, and where I can take things from alto players and try to do it on tenor if I want to. But that said, each horn does lend itself towards certain things—and now, dealing with three different horns, it's kind of interesting to, when I'm hearing something, reach for this horn to bring it out a bit more. Because they do have their own personalities, and things that they lend themselves to. I know that when I started playing baritone a couple years ago, composing immediately changed, because what I'm hearing playing baritone, and the way that it fits into an ensemble, is completely different than the other horns. So it makes you hear different things, basically.

AAJ: Do you still consider yourself an alto player?

DR: Yeah. I think at heart, yeah. That's the horn that I really grew up with. That would be my kind of go-to horn if I had a gig where I was just going to play one horn.

AAJ: Let's go back to the Dave Rempis Quartet, who did a CD that came out two years ago called Out of Season (482 Music, 2004). This was you, Tim Daisy, Jason Roebke on bass and Jim Baker on piano, analog synthesizer and some violin. This is, in my opinion, a pretty classic record. Jim Baker's a very interesting voice to pair with yours. You aren't in that many contexts with chordal instruments, and he's so fantastic on the record. I love the sound of his analog synth and your sax on "Scuffle, Part I, or his piano with Daisy's percussion in the beginning of "Never at a Loss —actually his piano everywhere. There are a lot of great sounds in here and a mood that sustains itself across the album. What was this band about?

DR: This was also a free-improvising band, and again, very much built around the musicians in it. Jim and Jason and I had a trio for about two or three years; we did gigs at Lula Café before it became a little bit more of a restaurant.

AAJ: A wildly successful restaurant at that.

DR: Yeah. It's a great place. So we were doing that for a while, and then at some point it seemed like it would be a good idea to add drums. And I think that that also allowed Jim to bring in his ARP, to try out the synthesizer. So we tried that for a few times in the summer of, I think, 2003, and started doing quite a few gigs as a quartet around that time. This is a band that to me was a bit more abstract, in a way—less time-oriented, more sound-oriented. But with Jim playing piano, there was a harmonic element to it which was pretty great. Actually, probably my favorite thing on that record is the piano solo he takes in the middle of the record that's about three minutes long. I think it starts "Out of Season, Part III. It's a beautiful piano solo.

Jim is absolutely one of my favorite musicians and improvisers. He's really someone who, every time he sits down to play, comes up with a completely creative and new solution to the same problem, on the same piece of music, whether it's written music or whatever. He is just the consummate improviser, in the real sense of the world, and it's really exciting to play with him. So I think in a lot of ways, the band was built around that.

AAJ: I knew I loved his analog synth playing, but I hadn't realized what a fabulous pianist he was. Is this band defunct?

DR: At this point, yeah. We pretty much stopped playing a couple years ago, I think. It was just a combination of everyone doing a million things and the fact that, in a way, we kind of got to a point where we'd exhausted some of the possibilities. To me and, I think to some of the other guys, it seemed like, "okay, let's move on.

AAJ: Well, it happens with improv. You can run out of the stuff.

DR: Yes, exactly. I think a learning process is a big part of this music for me, and when it gets to the point where it feels like we've dealt with this territory before, and it isn't necessarily something new, and that continues to happen—it's a sign that maybe it's time to move on and try something else.

AAJ: The next band I want to discuss is Triage. This is a trio of you, Tim Daisy and bassist Jason Ajemian. Your newest CD is American Mythology (Okka Disk, 2004), the group's third.

DR: Actually, there's another new one out called Stagger (Utech, 2006), that came out in February. It's probably all sold out at this point, but it's a live record that came out on Utech Records.

AAJ: Hmm, I want that record. This is in some ways your least abstract, most ass-kicking band. The themes are composed with this group, and it's pretty muscular stuff—it swings hard when it wants to and there's plenty of room for some wrenching soloing. In some ways, something like "Crystal Set is as close to straight-ahead jazz as you get, although the band is good at all kinds of stuff and the compositions are excellent. "In the Afternoon is one of my favorites—your alto almost sounds like Lee Konitz. I don't know why I keep coming up with modern-jazz legends you sound like in this interview.

DR: If you want to compare me to Lee Konitz, I can live with that.

AAJ: Okay, tell me about this group.

DR: Triage is a really important band to me and, I think, to the other guys in the group. It's something we started in 2001; we were all [laughing] relatively young at that point and I think it was really a workshop-type group for a long time. We were trying a lot of things, rehearsing regularly, playing gigs all the time. We did four or five tours with that group, three of which were two to three weeks long. But we were also playing in Chicago at least twice a month when we were all in town. To me, it's a really long-term group that did a lot of work and really managed to develop a lot in that process. That's really a touchstone for me in terms of my own development.

As far as the music goes, I think you're right. We tried a lot of different things—some things worked, some things didn't. We kept pushing forward on some fronts and let some others go—but that was kind of the point of the band, to try a wide range of stuff. And to try to create something perhaps more organic than some of the other groups that we're involved in, where it wasn't about necessarily executing compositions in a particular way, but more about trying to find different ways to play the same composition over and over. Different ways to navigate through these signposts within a composition.

AAJ: The concept was not having so much of a concept.

DR: Exactly.

AAJ: You keep talking in the past tense. Is this band over?

DR: We've been taking a break for a while, actually. Everybody's been really busy touring and doing other things. Last September, I think, was our last gig and at that point we decided to take a little break for a while. But we've been talking about trying to do something again in the fall.

AAJ: I'll ask about one more band of yours, and this is your new group the Engines, which I saw play two weeks ago. This is a collaborative band, I think—certainly you all share composing. It's you, Tim Daisy and Nate McBride, who plays acoustic and a bit of electric bass. The night I saw you, trombonist Jeb Bishop was playing as well, but I gather he's not a regular member.

DR: That's still kind of up in the air.

AAJ: Get him in!

DR: We've been playing for about a year now, and for the first six months or so, we were doing free improvisation stuff. And as a trio, I think we felt like, "okay, as much fun as this is, let's try to do some composition. So over the course of the spring, we've been working up a body of tunes, and we were asked to do a workshop in Champaign [Illinois] about a month ago at a high school—actually, two concerts and a workshop in the same day. They were also interested in bringing Jeb down for something else, and basically asked if maybe we'd just combine these ideas and have him as a special guest. That was fine with us; everyone in the group likes Jeb and likes playing with him.

So we really rehearsed a lot for this. We had to develop about two-and-a-half hours of material with Jeb, so there was a lot of rehearsing involved. The concert went great, and the things we've done since then have gone really well with Jeb. So we're going to go into the studio this coming weekend and record with him.

So whether he's an official member or not, I'm not sure. But [laughing] it's kind of looking that way.

AAJ: It's not that I don't think that you'd be good without him. But first of all, he's playing so well lately—maybe better than ever. And there's so much counterpart in the music, and so much cueing and composed ensemble parts and accents, that having him there, especially as counterpart to your lines, is fantastic.

DR: I totally agree. There's a big difference, arrangement-wise, between a trio and a quartet—there's just a lot you can do with a quartet that you can't with a trio, with three voices. As a horn player, it's nice to have another voice to work with. We'll see how things develop, but I hope he'll be interested in continuing with us for a while.

AAJ: I've only seen this group once, and didn't know any of the tunes. But I didn't get the impression that this group was that concerned about what kind of music it was supposed to be playing.

DR: No. Not at all. Everyone's bringing in material for the group, so it really is a collaborative thing, and I think everyone has sort of different visions about what they're hearing. To me, that's great. It just opens things up in a nice way, and as long as you can figure out how to put a set together that flows pretty well, it's great—which isn't really that difficult. It's like putting a deejay set together, you know—spinning five or six records is fine as long as you can make it flow properly.

AAJ: Lately, I'm really into Nate McBride on electric bass. I saw him with Ken Vandermark's new band, Powerhouse Sound, and he was amazing. He's an outstanding acoustic bassist, of course, but he's also a righteous electric bassist.

DR: He does both really well. He's a unique electric bassist too, I think. In some ways, he's coming at it from a jazz perspective of sorts, and has a slightly different feel than somebody who's strictly an electric bassist. He sounds great on both instruments. For me, it's really exciting to play with an electric player again. I love acoustic bass, it's got so many possibilities—but I've been playing with acoustic bass players for years, so it's nice to get back to, "hey! I did this back in high school! I like this! This is [laughing] great!

AAJ: Okay, we've covered about a million groups of yours. You're playing in all these bands and you lead quite a few of them. You're an imaginative musician and a great soloist. Is there anything that ties all your bands together? What's your specialty?

DR: I think probably just booking gigs! That's my specialty. But, actually, I don't know. I'm not sure what ties them together. I think there is a core group of musicians—as you said, Tim Daisy plays in a lot of the groups I'm in. But I'm really just not sure what the unifying thing would be necessarily. I don't know what the defining characteristic is. If anything, I play in all these bands. I guess the idea behind having different groups is that perhaps they refract whatever it is I do differently—or make me do different things within their contexts.

AAJ: I wanted to concentrate on your own bands, but I do want to ask about the Vandermark 5. You've been in this band since, I think, 1999.

DR: '98.

AAJ: And you're also in Ken Vandermark's Territory Band. You're a huge part of the Vandermark 5—you're Ken's sort of second-in-command—when Ken is indisposed playing, you're the one cueing the players with those classic V5 hand signals. I think the records and performances by this group are always good. Tell me what it's like to play in Ken's groups and what you get out of playing with him.

DR: A ton. Ken is a really amazing person on many different levels. I've just learned a ton from him. I started playing in that group when I was 23, and in that time, whether it's musically or just in any number of different ways, I've just learned a ton of different things from working with him and from working with the musicians in that band. It's certainly a big thing in my career as far as developing. Ken's not really somebody who's willing to put up with something that's half-assed at all—ever. Just having people push you like that is a great, great thing. I hope in some ways that's kind of translated to the rest of the Chicago scene in that there's an attitude here of people not screwing around, but really doing their thing in a wholehearted sort of way. That's probably the biggest thing.

AAJ: Was it an intimidating band to join?

DR: Oh, yeah. I still can't figure out why he asked me to do that band at that point, because I certainly wasn't ready for it. I think the biggest thing was that he knew I was young and would be able to tour with the group. Mars Williams, whose place I took in the band and who's an amazing saxophonist, was doing a million other things at the time and couldn't really commit to touring with the group and building the group into the thing that Ken was seeing. So I got lucky [laughing] and I guess I was able to help with that, in the perspective of, "okay, yeah, I can go do two weeks in the States.

AAJ: I know you've been acting as curator for the Improvised Music Series at Elastic in Logan Square here in Chicago. Why don't you tell me about that.

DR: Well, the space started as a space called 3030 in Humboldt Park. They opened, I think, in 2001, and the series I started doing there was in April of 2002, and we did every Thursday until they closed in September of 2005. So it was about three-and-a-half years. All told, we did somewhere around 150 concerts, plus two three-night festivals and probably 20 special events on the weekends and stuff. It's always been a Thursday-night series—which was an outgrowth, I would say, of some of the stuff Ken Vandermark was doing on Thursdays at the Lunar Cabaret in the mid-nineties, which then moved over to the Nervous Center in the late nineties. When that space closed, we tried to move it over to 3030, which seemed like it would work out for a while, and luckily, it's still running. As I said, that old space closed in September of 2005, but they managed to reopen, and we starting doing the series again [at the Elastic space] in April of 2006.

So at the new space we're up to our thirteenth concert, which is tonight. And we've already done a few special events—Fred Anderson Trio and some other ones.

AAJ: Aren't you also affiliated with the Immediate Sound Series, which occurs Wednesdays at the Hideout?

DR: Yeah. We've basically formed a group of musicians and presenters called Umbrella Music. This was originally formed without a name about three years ago. The idea was to work together with a lot of the people presenting this type of music in Chicago, so that we could make it easier for artists to come to town and play a number of gigs—either with their own group or with local musicians. To really coordinate in a way that was beneficial both to musicians in town and people coming from out of town, in terms of trying to secure funding and other things.

One of main projects we worked on for quite a while was to try to get [Chicago Public Radio station] WBEZ to develop their programming a bit and move away from what a lot of us saw as bordering on smooth jazz at times. They were very resistant to that idea, because, according to them, everything was perfectly fine and their ratings were great. But as we've seen in the last few months, that clearly was not the case, as they finally axed their programming director and announced that they were actually getting rid of music altogether.

So we spent a lot of time on that, and then kept in touch informally over the last few years. Then in the fall, with the Velvet Lounge closing, 3030 closing, the Empty Bottle cutting way back on its jazz bookings, it seemed—particularly to myself, Ken Vandermark and [percussionist] Mike Reed from the Hungry Brain—that we needed to do something to keep venues where we could all perform our music. So we talked a bit over the fall, we talked with Mike Orlove from the Cultural Center, and he introduced us to Pat Daley of Gallery 37. We formed a new group called Umbrella Music, which is programming weekly series—sort of on our own, but as a federation, I would say. Ken Vandermark and [local fan-turned-booker] Mitch Cocanig are doing Wednesday night at the Hideout; I'm doing Thursday nights at Elastic; Mike Reed and [cornetist] Josh Berman are doing Sunday nights at the Hungry Brain. And the whole group has been working together, with me as the sort of contact person, for the Downtown Sound Gallery Series at Gallery 37.

AAJ: Good thing, and it's a boon for the listener. These are now the venues that I check weekly for live music. Without this, I don't know what there would be.

DR: Yeah, right. One thing we've also tried to work on is just making the information more readily available and hopefully accurate. There are some great listings like Savage Sound (www.savagesound.com), with all the improvised music gigs happening in town. The website we're curating, www.umbrellamusic.org, is more limited to the venues where we're booking shows, but we try to make sure that it's up to date and accurate—which is often not the case with the larger listings, since they have to incorporate so much.

AAJ: No, they often get the dates right, but they almost always get the personnel wrong.

DR: Yeah. It's pretty challenging to compile all that information unless you have the time to do it, basically.

AAJ: All of these venues and series have worked together to offer a real combination of Chicago's improv musicians—both the so-called North Side and South Side players—and a lot of visiting European players as well. Besides that, is there any philosophy to the bookings besides just presenting good improvisational musicians?

DR: I think that's the core directive. We are really trying to incorporate a wide range of people who are playing on these series, whether it's up-and-coming artists or famous visitors coming in from New York, or Europe, or wherever it might be. I think for all of us, we all are either up-and-coming or have gone through that phase of our careers. I know some people gave me some breaks when I was younger, and I got the opportunity to play, which is really how we learn our stuff. So I think we're all pretty aware of trying to provide gigs for everyone across the spectrum.

AAJ: I know you've also been working on the 2006 Pitchfork Festival, which is a whole different realm. Do you see yourself continuing to do this sort of larger-scale or rock-based work?

DR: Yeah, possibly. I'm working here more on the logistical side of it, rather than on the programming side. But its being a somewhat part-time position a lot of the year, and then being a sort of seasonal thing with one main event that we focus on, has the potential to fit in well with my musical schedule. I can go on tour for six or eight month of the year, and come back and do this for a while.

AAJ: What else are you going to do this year?

Dave RempisDR: In July, I'm taking some time off, because of my work helping to organize the Pitchfork Festival; that's kind of my day job right now, and it eats up a fair amount of time. I'm recording with the Engines, keeping the Percussion Quartet going. In the fall, I'll be doing some work with Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, the bassist who has a quintet with some Norwegian guys. It sounds like Jeff Parker's going to join the group, so it'll be me, Frank Rosaly, Ingebrigt, Jeff Parker and a Norwegian violin player whose name I can't remember at the moment. We'll probably be doing some work and possibly touring Chicago in September. We'll probably do a short tour with the Engines in the fall.

We have some Vandermark 5 work coming up—actually, we're going to Malaysia in November. I've never been to Asia before, so that should be pretty amazing! It's the beginning of a tour that will take us to Europe as well, so that'll probably be [laughing] some horrible, horrible jet lag! I'm not quite sure how that's going to work out yet. From the sound of it, we may end up circumnavigating the globe, so that should be interesting.

I'm going to work on finding a label that's interested in putting out one of these live shows we did on the Percussion Quartet tour, and then perhaps try to tour again in the spring with that group. And the Territory Band is doing some work in Chicago in August. We're doing a concert in Millennium Park, and we'll probably be up in Milwaukee and a few other connected gigs around Chicago.


Selected Discography

Territory Band-4, Company Switch (Okka Disk, 2006)
Rempis Percussion Quartet, Rip Tear Crunch (482 Music, 2006)
Triage, Stagger (Utech, 2006)
Vandermark 5, Free Jazz Classics, Vols. 3 & 4 (Atavistik, 2005)
Vandermark 5, The Color of Memory (Atavistic, 2005)
Dave Rempis/Tim Daisy, Back to the Circle (Okka Disk, 2005)
Rempis Percussion Quartet, Circular Logic (Utech, 2005)
Vandermark 5, Alchemia (Atavistic, 2005)
Territory Band-3, Map Theory (Okka Disk, 2005)
Dave Rempis Quartet, Out of Season (482 Music, 2004)
Vandermark 5, Elements of Style, Exercises in Surprise (Atavistic, 2004)
Triage, American Mythology (Okka Disk, 2004)
Territory Band-2, Atlas (Okka Disk, 2003)
Triage, Twenty Minute Cliff (Okka Disk, 2003)
Vandermark 5, Airports for Light (Atavistic, 2002)
Vandermark 5, Free Jazz Classics, Vols. 1 & 2 (Atavistic, 2001)
Vandermark 5, Acoustic Machine (Atavistic, 2001)
Territory Band-1, Transatlantic Bridge (Okka Disk, 2001)
Triage, Premium Plastics (Solitaire, 2001)
Vandermark 5, Burn the Incline (Atavistic, 2000)
Vandermark 5, Simpatico (Atavistic, 1999)

Photo Credits

Color Photo: Cees van de Ven
Triage Photo: Lee Moore

B&W Photos: Joel Wanek


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