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Dave Rempis: Communication, Improvisation and No Screwing Around

By Published: August 7, 2006
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.

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