Whenever I hear a sax/drums duet record, I can’t help but compare it to John Coltrane’s late career tour-de-force with Rashied Ali, Interstellar Space. I don’t know if it’s because that’s the first record I’ve heard where it’s just those two instruments or because it’s the best record ever made with just those two instruments, but it’s probably a combination of both. Nonetheless, I’m always impressed when anybody does this because it takes a bit of virtuosity and a whole lot of gumption to do this and not go splat on your ass.
Luckily, saxophonist Dave Rempis and drummer Tim Daisy are in no danger of that happening to them, because they are two of the better performers in the highly competitive Chicago avant-garde scene. Second Spring, due next week, is their second album duet album, following 2005’s Back To The Circle, and the two have played together in various combos since the late 90s. So you figure that the telepathy will be there. (Rempis also paired with another Chicago drummer, Frank Rosaly, for 2010’s Cyrillic).
And, it is. Second Spring is a primal product of sixteen years playing together some of the most challenging music out there. Six improvised tunes, made up — presumably — on the spot, all taped in a day. Rempis deviates from that Interstellar plot a bit by changing up among a tenor, alto and baritone saxophones, sometimes within the same performance.
Daisy, for his part distances himself from Ali; instead of laying down a cement slab of percussive noise, Daisy keeps things light and frisky, and the near-absence of the bass drum leaves a void on the bottom end that is replaced by a breeze. No bottom end, no chords, just a couple of guys embarking on tonal journeys without GPS.
Each track tells a different story. Rempis makes “Numbers Lost” distinguishable by reaching for the outer upper limits of his alto sax, at times almost sounding like a flute, and then he does the same for a baritone. He makes that baritone produce gnarly, beastly sounds on “Three Flags” and dances gingerly around Daisy’s percussive cogitations during much of “Frijoleo.”
Rempis doesn’t always rely on odd sounds to make his point; “For R. Barry” is a rather graceful tenor saxophone performance. “Impasto” is much more animated, but you can make out the outlines of a real melody played in the bop style amidst the unrest.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell who’s leading who, a sign of playing with premonition. On the other hand, it’s easy to tell that Rempis and Daisy have a strong, well-honed musical connection that makes undertaking a project that no mere mortals can pull off convincingly seem like a walk in the park.
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