Ornette Coleman was one of the first to use two drummers in a smaller ensemble for his seminal double quartet Free Jazz (Atlantic, 1961). In doing so they established the template for dual interaction, as Ed Blackwell majored on drum patterns while Billy Higgins emphasized the cymbals. While the format has become much more widespread as the avant-garde allowed the exploration of diverse combinations of instruments, it's still unusual for a small group to boast two percussionists, let alone for such an outfit to sustain its existence like the Rempis Percussion Quartet for over a decade and the issue of seven albums.
Drummers Tim Daisy and Frank Rosaly have been there in a barely changed roster since the outset and like their forebears developed an understanding that promotes synergy rather than cancelling each other out. That's most obvious in those passages where both play together in similar territory, as at the start of the near 40-minute "Water Foul Run Amok," where there's sufficient transparency to appreciate both and they don't drown out either the saxophones of leader Dave Rempis or the assertive bass of Ingebrigt Håker Flaten. Not that there is much danger of swamping Rempis. Such an instrumentation demands a front line with enough gravitas, fire and wit to thrive and Rempis achieves all that and more on his own.
Known as fluent and inventive since his Vandermark 5 days, the reedman spins out exponentially increasing variations from a launchpad such as his clarion cry opening gambit on "Water Foul Run Amok." He probes a phrase, then mutates it through overblowing and tonal manipulation, before moving on. The band has cultivated a sure grasp of long form dynamics to ensure that it's not all thunder and lightning. A meditative section ensues after 8 minutes on the opener with Håker-Flaten's arco bass prominent, presaging a duet between Daisy's dancing drums and Rempis' boppish alto. But later in the same piece expectations are met once more as the twin trapsets institute a signature hypnotic groove.
"Better Than Butter" begins more quietly with tick tock percussion from Daisy who appears the more rhythm orientated of the two, while Rosaly is more concerned with tone color. But intensity builds until tribal drum motifs criss cross the soundstage fuelling Rempis blues-tinged holler. That completes a well-recorded live set, comprising two lengthy collectively formed slabs of boisterous energy. Notwithstanding the concert origins, there's clear separation of the two drummers with Tim Daisy in the left channel and Frank Rosaly in the right (from info supplied by Rempis, not on the sleeve), so both can be given the attention they deserve. Not unlike the situation in Ornette's unit all those years ago.
Water Foul Run Amok; Better Than Butter.
Dave Rempis: alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone; Ingebrigt Håker
Flaten: bass; Tim Daisy: drums; Frank Rosaly: drums.
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