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Dave Rempis: Communication, Improvisation and No Screwing Around

By Published: August 7, 2006
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.

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