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.

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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.

Two from Aerophonic

Ballister [Rempis, Lonberg-Holm, Nilsson-Love] — Worse for the Wear (Aerophonic, 2014)

Wooley, Rempis, Niggenkemper, CorsanoFrom Wolves to Whales (Aerophonic, 2014)

Two new releases from Dave RempisAerophonic label place the Chicago-based saxophonist in different jazz-improv settings, both magnetic and full of energy. Both albums have their fast and slow parts, their quiet and loud parts, but the differences in personnel give each project a distinct atmosphere.

Ballister -- Worse for the WearBallister is the more forceful of the two, teaming Rempis with the noisy hands of percussionist Paal Nilssen-Love and the crunchy electric cello of Fred Lonberg-Holm.

The 21-minute “Fornax” is an unabashed frenzy, all flames and smoke from the first seconds. Lonberg-Holm’s amplified cello essentially fills the role of an electric guitar, helping to push the edgy sound, but the session stays red-lined even after he slips into acoustic mode to provide backing plucks to a Rempis/Nilssen-Love attack. Someone even adds a metal-like grumbly vocal. That’s all in the first five minutes.

The track does slow down, as you’d expect from a piece of that length, ending with a quiet crawl. The closing track, “Vulpecula,” is on the slower side as well — a darker, more gradual energy, inhabiting murky caverns rather than bustling cities. It’s energy jazz with a sinister air.

In between the two is “Scutum,” another high-energy piece, but a slimmer model. It’s got some exciting Nilssen-Love work on hi-hat (his jazz chops on the drum kit shine throughout the album) and a twangy bowed cello keeping the intensity up. Rempis enters shortly with ecstatic flares. It’s a terrific exercise in free jazz, and in the passages where the sound gets quieter, Rempis’ sax only gets more frenzied and eccentric.

wooley-wolvesThe quartet on From Wolves to Whales works into high-energy frenzies, too. But with Nate Wooley (trumpet) on board, there are also nods to lower-case improv, for moments of spacious contemplation. It’s a more expansive sound than Worse for the Wear.

“Slake” opens the album with whispered trumpet crinkles and takes its time building to a healthy boil, with Wooley shifting to quick-lipped and crisp playing. “Count Me Out” likewise starts out with Wooley’s quiet, airy sounds; this time, the band picks up with a restrained energy, building a conversation that culminates in dark, scowling form.

There’s an enjoyable sense of space to Rempis’ squawks and honks on “Serpent’s Tooth,” backed by Chris Corsano‘s insistent drumming and patient bass from Pascal Niggenkemper. It builds nicely from some unaccompanied warbling by Rempis, a first-principles statement that sets up a respectful, drawn-out jam as the other players follow suit. After a few minutes, Rempis blossoms into brighter free-jazz mode, opening up the piece.

Worse for the Wear and From Wolves to Whales have official release dates of Jan. 6, but you can get then now from Aerophonic.

How Much Brötzmann Can You Take?

Saxophonist Peter Brötzmann and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love are coming to the Bay Area, and you can’t stop them. But you can go see them:

Brotzmann & Nilssen-Love. Photo by Ziga Koritnik.
Brotzmann & Nilssen-Love. Photo by Ziga Koritnik. Lifted from the Center for New Music.

Each venue promises a cozy, intimate setting for getting your eardrums blasted out. Brötzmann can certainly play quietly and sensitively, but it’s the biggest sounds that are his signature. This is a guy who told The Wire his overexpansive playing has expanded his lungs to the point of damage. Raise your hand if you didn’t realize that was even possible.

The condition doesn’t affect Brötzmann’s playing, however. So, as late as 2011 at the Musique Actuelle Festival in Victoriaville, he was able to do things like this:

Trio Roma (Victo, 2012).That’s Brötzmann and Nilssen-Love in trio with Massimo Pupillo playing an electric bass set on “kill.” They’ve obviously decided they’ll all amp it up, so to speak, to match Pupillo’s “11” setting. They do have pauses and quiet patches, but it’s a mostly sweaty and sprinting workout that makes up one of the two CDs in Solo + Trio Roma (Victo, 2012). It qualifies as a Sound of 4 experience.

That excerpt comes from only about 1 minute into a 70-minute track, by the way.

Regarding those quiet patches, here’s a segment where Pupillo sits out, and Brötzmann gets to display some delicate gruffness.

Concentric (Clean Feed, 2006)How about Nilssen-Love, who’s less familiar to most listeners? Here he is with a different saxophonist: John Butcher, whose aesthetic often tends toward the introspective — airy sounds and high-tone, slow-motion squeals. Concentric (Clean Feed, 2006) is a much different setting from Trio Roma, with Nilssen-Love going for a more sculpted sound even during the busier segments.

Sticks and Stones (Sofa, 2001)Nilssen-Love also has a solo album where he favors subtlety over bombast. Sticks & Stones (Sofa, 2001) isn’t exactly quiet — maybe “close-miked” is a better term? He solos on a rich array of percussion, making small noises that are amplified straight into your ear, as if you’re in a warm, small room with your head hovering right above the drums. He’s chosen his drums and implements so that the taps and bounces produce rich, almost liquid sounds, and you can savor every nuance, like sips of wine.

Sticks & Stones admittedly gets a little repetitious, but any one of the fairly short tracks is a treat, packed with delicious sounds and fast, rattling drumstick work.

Of course, these two gentlemen will spontaneously decide which colors to flash at these upcoming concerts. I would guess you’ll hear a little bit of all of it. Just come prepared for some big sounds.

(Each album-cover image links to eMusic, where you can sample more of the music. There is no commercial arrangement here; eMusic has no idea that I do this.)