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Dave Rempis: Communication, Improvisation and No Screwing Around

By Published: August 7, 2006
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.

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