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.

9 Artists and a Treasure Trove on Bandcamp

Not sure how long this has been on Bandcamp, but it’s a cool idea: Nine artists have joined forces to offer a ton of releases under the collective name of Catalytic Sound.


Ab Baars, Mats Gustafsson, Ig Henneman, Terrie Hessels, Joe McPhee, Andy Moor, Paal Nilssen-Love, Ken Vandermark and Nate Wooley make up the Catalytic collective.

vandermark-drinkCatalytic Sound was founded in 2011, according to their Facebook page. That’s probably referring to the group’s web site,  which appears to be a vehicle for selling CDs. In fact, much of what’s on the Bandcamp site is available in physical form only — CD or vinyl.

Bandcamp, though, makes it easy for the artists to sell music digitally — which means Catalytic Sound dips deep into into the artists’ back catalogues. That’s the part I’m really excited about. Vandermark, in particular, has stacks of out-of-print 1990s CDs represented — such as Drink Don’t Drown, a live recording from the famed Empty Bottle jazz series in Chicago.

One oldie worth checking out is Caffeine, an obscure trio with Jim Baker on piano and Steve Hunt on drums. It’s one of so many “lost” CDs I remember sampling in the KZSU-FM library.

Combined with the Destination: Out store, which is re-releasing the old FMP catalogue of European improv classics, Catalytic Sound is turning Bandcamp into a dangerous vacuum for discretionary dollars. Not that I’m complaining.

Playlist: July 24, 2009

KZSU playlist highlights for Friday, July 24, 3:00 to 6:15 p.m.

This is my first stab at not including the full playlist, just highlights. I don’t like the format yet and might continue tweaking it. Full playlist can be viewed here.

Spontaneous Music Ensemble — “Thirty-Five Minutes” — Quintessence (Emanem, recorded 1974)source:
….. It was a week to break out a large dose of “non- idiomatic” improv, as Derek Bailey liked to call it — abstract music several steps descended from jazz and soaked overnight in modern classical. We’ve got a small trove of recordings from the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, an early keystone of this music, and it’s been too long since I dipped in.

Big names adorn the 1974 “Quintessence” recordings (released on CD by Emanem): Bailey (guitar), Evan Parker (sax), Kent Carter (bass), and founders John Stevens (drums) and Trevor Watts (other sax). “Thirty-five minutes” is just short of 35 minutes long and shows how restraint was a crucial element to the band’s mission. It’s not like the burning free jazz of the time.

Dominic Duval, John Heward, Joe McPhee — “Undersound 11” — Undersound II (Leo, 2002)
….. Following that up, I played a 26-minute track from this trio, which recorded a couple of albums on Leo. It’s got a faster pace and more directly jazz-derived sound than the SME track, for a nice contrast. McPhee gets into plenty of extended sax twisting on this one — lots of multiphonics, for instance. And yes, the track is “Undersound Eleven” on the album “Undersound Two.”

Ed Palermo Big Band — “Echidna’s Arf (Of You)” — Eddy Loves Frank (Cuneiform, 2009) …..Palermo has now put out three big-band albums devoted to Frank Zappa’s music; hence the title, Eddie Loves Frank. Joyous and rocking stuff. They even do a cover of “Night School,” which admittedly doesn’t sound like that hard (relatively) a track, but it’s always interesting to hear “live” readings of the no-humans tracks on Jazz From Hell. I’m feeling inspired to go listen to (and make another attempt at understanding) “While You Were Art II.”

Rakalam Bob Moses — “Exhalation #1” — Father’s Day B’hash (Sunnyside, 2009)
….. Some nicely sprawling, fiery free jazz on this album. I live the open, expansive sound of the 12-minute “Exhalation #1.”

Thomas Chapin“Radius” — Radius (Mu, 1990)
….. Grabbed this for some downtown NYC cred. Turns out it was a lot more “inside” (a lot more) than I’d anticipated. No matter; still good stuff.

Click here for the full playlist.