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Dave Rempis: Zen Master

Mark Corroto By

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The best application of philosophy to improvised music is the Chinese concept of "wu-wei." The best translation of this is "no trying." Many listeners have the false impression that it takes a sophisticated ear or at least years of listening to "get" improvised music. Actually, the opposite is true. The key is wu-wei or the art of trying not to try. That's why children effortlessly absorb and assimilate free jazz; they simply have no blocks to the spontaneity of the sound. Of course, distinguished improvising musicians practice wu-wei either consciously (or subconsciously) as a rule.

When a musician (or you) operates within this "not trying" format, he/she is said to be in "De" or what athletes call "the zone." Ideas flow and interaction with other players is immediate, responsive, and synergistic. Such has been the output of saxophonist Dave Rempis' artist-run label Aerophonic Records. Since his days with the Vandermark 5, he has been a creative spark in the Chicago music scene as a musician and music presenter. He has distinguished himself in international circles performing in Ingebrigt Håker Flaten's Quintet, Resonance Ensemble, and the Territory Band.

The music he presents on his label is full-on wu-wei with recordings from his Percussion Quartet and his duos with Tim Daisy 99 and Lasse Marhaug. Trios include Wheelhouse (with Jason Adasiewicz and Nate McBride), one with Joshua Abrams and Avreeayl Ra, and another with Darren Johnston and Larry Ochs. Each release is an opportunity to practice listening with open ears and no suppositions.

Nate Wooley/Dave Rempis/Pascal Niggenkemper/Chris Corsano
From Wolves To Whales
Aerophonic Records
2015

Both improvising ensembles here, the trio Ballister (with saxophonist Dave Rempis, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love) is an established band (2009) and the quartet (of Rempis, trumpeter Nate Wooley, bassist Pascal Niggenkemper, and drummer Chris Corsano) is a new creation.

Ballister has a fine track record, releasing four previous discs, two self-released precursors to Aerophonics Mi Casa es en Fuego (2013) and Bastard String and two on other labels Mechanisms (Clean Feed, 2012) and Both Ends (Bocian Records, 2014). Worse For The Wear is a full blossomed trio that never shies away from a good fight. Rempis sports a full complement of saxophones here from the alto to tenor and baritone. He needs this arsenal to grapple with the all-embracing sounds of Lonberg-Holm and Nilssen-Love, two players that can go toe-to-toe with heavyweights like Peter Brotzmann, Mats Gustafsson. and Joe McPhee. Two of the three lengthy tracks "Fornax" and Scutum" sizzle and pop with that sound of a raging wild fire. Lonberg-Holm with his cello and electronics can effectuate a the sounds of an electric guitar, stand-up bass, and cello (of course) to create an intimate pizzicato or a towering wall of bowed noise. same for Nilssen-Love whose energy drumming is more Rashied Ali than Elvin Jones. He always appears to be playing somewhere off the paved roads, forging his own found sound with metal, animal skins, and a liter of sweat. The band draws inward on "Vulpecula," eschewing their internal tussles for a quieter sound. Bellow is replaced by balm, and clamor for calm. The trio plays here almost as if exhaling.

Ballister
Worse For The Wear
Aerophonic Records
2015

From Wolves To Whales takes its cues from the minimalist improvisation styling of Nate Wolley's projects including his Seven Storey Mountain recordings and work with the likes of Evan Parker and Paul Lytton. His growling chattering notes open "Slake" accompanied by metal tinted drumming of Corsano and the darting pop-ups of Rempis' alto saxophone. The hushed sounds belie the intensity of the music. What might be mistaken for minimalism, isn't. This quartet is content to burn a low flame, one that is scalding hot. The 'it factor' here is the spontaneous interplay between these players. Rempis sets up a rotating circular breathing pattern on "Serpents Tooth" that Niggenkemper pulls strings into vibration under, Wooley mounts a muted horn, and Corsano works mallets. The organic nature of the music's progression, usually from quiet to resonant, flows like a well crafted drama. The music like a zen koan is only understood once the listener stops trying to co-opt it, and just let the sounds envelop you.

Tracks and Personnel

From Wolves To Whales

Tracks: Slake; Serpents Tooth; Stand Up For Bastard; Swingin' Apoplexy; Count Me Out.

Personnel: Nate Wooley: trumpet; Dave Rempis: alto saxophone; Pascal Niggenkemper: bass; Chris Corsano: drums.

Worse For The Wear

Tracks: Fornax; Scutu; Vulpecula.

Personnel: Dave Rempis: alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone; Fred Lonberg-Holm: cello, electronics; Paal Nilssen-Love: drums, percussion.

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