Qanaaq, a Quintet’s Journey

McPhee, Rempis, Reid, Lopez, Nilssen-LoveOf Things Beyond Thule, Vol. 1 (Aerophonic, 2020)

Of Things Beyond Thule Front Cover smallThis album is being released only on vinyl, in an edition of 350, with no other format or digital download planned. It might be because “Qanaaq,” the 37-minute quintet improvisation comprising both sides, has the feel of something special, one of those nights where the musicians hit the right resonant frequency and build something powerful.

“Thule” and “Qanaaq” are alternative names for the same city in Greenland, and maybe that small suggestion is what makes the music feel vast. The more intense segments aren’t full-bore blowouts, but a sustained, patient energy conjuring the awe of immense spaces.

In the mold of good long-form storytelling, “Qanaaq” flies through passages of both quiet and noise. The sound can be cozy, as in the intimate monologue that opens the piece. Dave Rempis on baritone sax (possibly also a touch of Joe McPhee on tenor sax) is backed there by restrained, persistent group undercurrent (Tomeka Reid on cello, Paal Nilsson-Love on drums, and Brandon Lopez on bass). It can also be energetic, as in the open groove later built by Nilsson-Love and Reid, putting an exclamation point on Side One.

What really sparkles, though, are the climactic final minutes. They start peacefully, with McPhee’s smoky monologue on tenor, but it’s when Nilsson Love jumps in — a moment of full conviction — that the grand expanse of an ending suddenly springs into shape.

Of Things Beyond Thule is part of a live set from 2018 — the first performance by this particular combination of skilled improvisers — and makes a fitting souvenir from an inspirational night.