If you were a fan of cyclist Marco Pantani, you must have appreciated the manner in which he could defeat his opponents in a 100 mile bicycle race. Nicknamed il pirata (the pirate), he could rip their legs off from the start, but the real thing of beauty was the numerous other ways he could win. Maybe that is why experiencing the live concert recording SLAG evokes Pantani's style. The trio of saxophonist Dave Rempis, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love has the capacity to annihilate ears, but the art here is the manner in which they run their race.
The trio is not opposed to sprinting out of the gate, as they do on the opener, the twenty-three minute "Fauchard" (I Googled it, it's a scary medieval weapon) with a seven minute torrent of sound. Nilssen-Love strikes blow after blow, stoking the dynamo that turns his mechanical energy into the electricity that is Rempis and Lonberg-Holm's attack. You might wonder, are you still following, or have they exhausted you? If you can hang, the trio slows their pace and reveals their chess match. The macro becomes the micro. Those listeners that have kept pace are rewarded with more intimate gesturers, extended saxophone and cello technique, electronic fission, and staggering feats of percussive acrobatics.
Connoisseurs of free jazz can appreciate the energy here. Rempis channels both Brotzmann and Braxton, the outside and the inside. Nilssen-Love is the next generation of free jazz drummers, a combination of Sunny Murray and Tommy Ramone with an allegiance to pulse over swing. Then there is the cello of Lonberg-Holm, who has the ability to write his book with inspiration from Fred Kats to Jimi Hendrix. The quieter moments of "Guisarme" and "Glaive" (more medieval weaponry) might be the tastier cuts of meat here. Each player showcases his talents from an extended drum and cello/electronics duo to the serpentine wandering of Rempis' saxophone.
SLAG is a triumphant recording on many levels. It can exhaust you with its energy jazz or lull you into submission with its minutiae. Either way, there is something overwhelmingly satisfying about being beaten about the head by this trio.
Fauchard; Guisarme; Glaive.
Dave Rempis: alto saxophone; tenor saxophone; tenor saxophone; Fred Lonberg-Holm: cello, electronics; Paal Nilssen-Love: drums.