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I've often felt that the sidemen in the Vandermark Five are much more interesting as soloists than Ken Vandermark himself. Dave Rempis is a case in point for me. His fire and passion lift many V5 funk fests out of the comfortable, party happy avant-garde mode and bring more weight and darkness to what is otherwise good but undistinguished post-bop jazz. Rempis is a fixture of the Chicago avant-garde scene as well, leading many groups including the exceptional trio Triage and curating the long running Thursday night series at 3030 Cortland Street. But perhaps my favorite of his ensembles is this fine quartet, featuring some of the best kept secrets of the Chicago out jazz scene.
The Rempis quartet features, in addition to the leader, the amazing Tim Daisy on drums. Daisy is also the drummer for the Vandermark Five and is equally strong as a colorist, a roiling free player in the style of Sunny Murray, and a groove master. Coupled with bassist Jason Roebke, a color player of the first magnitude, they make a terrifically sensitive and vibrant rhythm section. Rounding out the group is perhaps the most impressive member, pianist and electronic musician Jim Baker. Baker is Chicago's best-kept secret. He is an amazing technician, but one who plays with fury alternating with deep poetry and an astounding harmonic sense. His synthesizer playing is also quite wonderful. Baker plays on an old ARP synthesizer and his ear for sound harks back to the days when electronic musicians tried to dream up new sound possibilities instead of serving as replacements for conventional instruments.
Over this dynamic ensemble, Rempis blows some of the best work of his career. He is fierce and uncompromising when appropriate, but also plays with considerable poetry and grace. The interaction between the sax and piano in "Out of Season Part II" is astonishing. Though the quartet does its fair share of sound exploration, a style of out playing that has become almost a cliché in Chicago, they do this sound work with musical taste and always build to emotional climaxes.
This was recorded at 3030 in Chicago, though it is not clear if it is from a live performance or done using the hall as a studio. Sound is fairly impressive for a location gig, though the piano is sometimes a bit thinner in sound than I might like. Still, the production values for this independent, artist-produced CD are quite good and the musicianship is very high. If you want to get an idea of what some of the best musicians in Chicago really sound like, this is an excellent starting point. A recording of this group has been long overdue.