Strandwal constitutes the second release by From Wolves To Whales, the all star unit comprising reedman Dave Rempis, trumpeter Nate Wooley, bassist Pascal Niggenkemper and drummer Chris Corsano. It presents two full sets from a 2017 concert in Haarlem in the Netherlands on a double CD, packed with constant dialogue. This is pretty much state of the art free jazz, but they make it sound so easy. There's none of the tentativeness or falling back on easy responses which might afflict lesser mortals. Input from any of the four directions can alter the trajectory of the one long and one shorter piece which each disc contains.
As ever Rempis inscribes a rollercoaster arc, one which occasionally recalls Jimmy Lyons in his fluency and even Ornette Coleman in his bounce. But he's more of a texturalist than both, also capable of juddering staccato suspensions as well as Ayler-inflected invective. Wooley may have a reputation as an abstract thinker, but he too can play nearer the mainstream, although his zigzagging runs are as likely to dissolve into airy swooshes as resolve in any conventional sense. Niggenkemper's customized bass allows him to supplement his robust tone and fearsome imagination with overtones which can sound electronic or metallic, while Corsano is a master of tone and rattling momentum which doesn't close down options.
They naturally break into different permutations, as solos emerge, become duos or trios and then move on. Consequently the spotlight varies from moment to moment. On "Hook and Cod," in just the space of a few minutes, the focus morphs from four-way interchange to percussive alto saxophone / roiling drum duo, and then into further group interplay, but this time with the horns seeming outfront, supported by a rhythm section. It's all evidence of a finely judged sense of when to twist and when to stick from four players at the top of their game. By itself that doesn't guarantee quality, but this crew has been road-tested for empathy.
Niggenkemper and Wooley establish a drone on "IJ" which recurs intermittently throughout the piece giving it a distinctive character after the bustling opener. In the second set, the dynamics seem more open, engendering more extended solos, with Niggenkemper's wheezy bowing being particularly noteworthy. A combination of sparse breaths and tappy siren noises launch the lengthy "Spaarne" into more dizzying exchanges, while after a pointillist start, "For Kenau" ultimately births a loose horn unison that seems almost valedictory, a wistful mood amplified and embellished in a bittersweet finale, which forms a lovely end to both the concert and the album.
CD1: Hook and Cod; IJ; CD2: Spaarne; For Kenau.
Nate Wooley: trumpet; Dave Rempis: alto saxophone; Pascal Niggenkemper: bass; Chris Corsano: drums.