It was easily the most inconspicuous performance taking place on an afternoon/evening when Lexington was volcanically active.
Tucked away at the Farish Theatre of the Lexington Public Library, removed from American Pharoah’s historic Breeders’ Cup win (which took place moments earlier), its accompanying outdoor festival down the block at the Stephens Courthouse Plaza (which ran concurrently) and the Kentucky-Tennessee football smackdown at Commonwealth Stadium (with kickoff time a mere hour away), Chicago jazz innovators/improvisers Dave Rempis and Tim Daisy engaged in a continually arresting saxophone/percussion performance. Shoot, even the library had already closed for the day. You thought you were part of a secret society upon entering.
But while the hour long Outside the Spotlight performance may have worked well outside conventional bounds of harmony and melody, it was in no way exclusive in its presentation. Rempis and Daisy have been bandmates for close to two decades and have collaborated in numerous ensemble settings, so this duo outing simply heightened a longstanding musical dialogue.
Much of the music packed into a pair of lengthy duet improvisations began with minimal foundations. The first piece had Daisy constructing a drum outline on mallets with Rempis’ turns on tenor saxophone flushing out almost circular musical patterns with a strong compositional feel.
From there, it was tough to differentiate who was leading. It appeared to be Rempis for much of the evening, but Daisy’s responses on percussion – whether they were through an assemblage of scattered grooves, passages that had him tapping a small gong like a hand drum to give the musical a brief Eastern slant or bursts of interference created by tossing various bowls and percussion devices to the stage floor – regularly placed him in the driver’s seat.
Rempis largely dictated the concert’s pace, however. At times, he met Daisy’s playing head on to create a restless musical dialogue. That was especially evident during tradeoffs on alto sax with the drummer’s militaristic rolls on snare near the conclusion of the half-hour improv that began the performance to send the music through a discreet but pronounced blues detour.
In other instances, Rempis simmered the show’s overall drive and opened the music up, as in the way his baritone sax leads peppered the alternating groove – and its quick disassembly – during the evening’s second improv.
Best of all was a sense of musical communication so keen that (during the first improv) the music would halt in place for a beat before picking up again. At one point, it stopped for several seconds, leaving the audience – and perhaps even the duo itself – guessing as to whether the music would resume. To everyone’s good fortune, it did.