Aerophonic Records Two-fer: The Rempis Percussion Quartet – Phalanx; and Wheelhouse – Boss of the Plains (2013)

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Earlier this year Chicago saxophonist Dave Rempis launched his own record label Aerophonic to serve as the main home for his various projects and the first two of these recordings are hittin’ the streets next week, on June 11.

One project overloads on drums while the other has no percussion at all. Rempis Percussion Quartet already had five albums out since 2005, the year after Rempis formed the group with drummers Frank Rosaly and Tim Daisy. With this kind of getup, it’s almost like Interstellar Space with two Rashied Ali’s, and the trio felt free to go in any direction that struck them at any given moment, though they usually choose to go down the perilous path of pure energy, punctuation by moments of regroup and rumination.

Those are the kind of things does for over two hours on Phalanx, spread out over four tracks, two discs and recorded live last year in two cities.Phalanx has a little bit of everything out of this grouping of free jazz: it swings, it grooves, it’s volcanic and it’s feather-light. With four arms and legs thrashing about on the drum kits, it’s easier to do those things with conviction.

Rempis is a true representative of the Chicago avant jazz scene in that like everyone else there, you can draw a line from their advanced conceptions all the way back to the roots of Chicago jazz in the 1920s; that line might be long and jagged, but it’s there. You can hear echoes of old school jazz in the beginnings of “Cream City Stomp” and “Anti-Goons” but before long he’s heading straight off the cliff; his alto sax rants on “Anti-Goons” could give Peter Brötzmann and his husky tenor a rum for its money.

With the last album Montreal Parade, a bassist from Norway Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (The Thing, Scorch Trio), joined the band. He proves to be a key addition to the RPQ, instantly binding together Rempis with the drummers using coiled lines that run the gauntlet of relentless sax and double-drums unscathed. He also contrives discerning solos (as in the quieter 7 minute mark of “Algonquins” and the 14 minute mark of “Cream City Stomp”).

Phalanx is a lot of listening to jazz that often thrashes, but luckily those gentle moments serve as useful pit stops that allows the listener to downshift while the musicians do, too. Rempis and his crack crew have enough ideas to spread ’em out over these two discs.

Purchase the Rempis Percussion Quartet – Phalanx.

Rempis’ other group appearing on his new label consists only of Rempis, Nate McBride on bass and Jason Adasiewicz on vibraphone. Wheelhouse is another band he started in the mid aughts, but Boss of the Plains represents their debut on a record. Recorded in Adasiewicz’s attic back in 2010, this is loft jazz in the literal sense, and the closed-in acoustics of a garret serves the intimate feel of the music well. This time, there’s only one disc and fifty-three minutes of music, but the temporal, slow developing nature of the music makes it more logical to view the album as a single piece with ten episodes rather than as ten discreet songs.

With no drums there’s a constant sense of foreboding that rarely leads to cacophony. Songs circle in wide, elliptical orbits. Adasiewicz is at the center of the unique sonic footprint, a master of painting with the right brush, colors and brushstrokes. The moods and shapes of the performances are more or less defined by Rempis’ sax as the others respond attentively. Rempis as usual exhibits a deep vocabulary, capable of the full range of emotions.

With the presence of the vibes player, Boss of the Plains is driven by colors and space more so than Phalanx; Indeed, Rempis is playing noticeably sweeter here than with does with the Percussion Quartet, his rowdy side comes up far fewer times and makes a bigger impact when it does (as on “Song Juan” and “Song For Teens,” for example). But also like the former album, there’s strong unity amongst the musicians because this remains music that’s made up on the spot.

Combined, these two albums get Aerophonic Records off to a good start. Even though they are both led by the same artist, a guy as rangy and adventurous as Dave Rempis is capable of bringing enough diversity to his record label all on his own.

Purchase: Wheelhouse – Boss of the Plains

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