in performance: rempis/lopez/packard

Brandon Lopez, Dave Rempis and Ryan Packard, Photo by Erika Raberg,

With every band that brings Dave Rempis to Lexington – and in the 17 year history of the Outside the Spotlight series, there have been a dozen or more – has come an almost expected level of musical combustion. The Chicago saxophonist brings not only a fierce physicality to his playing, but a level of fearlessness within the intensity of his improvising that makes the temperament of his musicianship all the more volatile.

That was certainly the case with a new trio he brought to an OTS performance at the Kentucky School on Tuesday evening. Aided by New York bassist Brandon Lopez and Chicago drummer Ryan Packard (last seen here as part of another Rempis trio, Gunwale, in 2016), the saxophonist summoned the trademark volcanic intensity, whether it was through bold, corrosive jabs on alto saxophone, the scalding wail he worked up to on tenor or the layers of baritone color that filled the Kentucky School like an approaching fog.

But the difference in the Rempis/Lopez/Packard trio proved to be dynamics. Part of that came from the rest of the group, be it the fractured ambience Packard added on melodica and some primitive electronics (like a single amplified speaker that created a variety of curious distortions when placed on a drum head) and the extensive bowed bass vocabulary Lopez would regularly call upon over the course of the hour-long set’s three extended improvisations.

Mostly, though, what distinguished this group were the ways those dynamics mingled with Rempis’ playing. That especially came into focus during the program’s final improv, highlighted by a drone-like unison of bowed bass and baritone sax that became oddly but beautifully harmonic. Then the finale blissed out with Packard reducing the percussion to quietly tribal rhythms implemented by mallets before the entire set came to a spacious, almost meditative landing.

Rempis confided after the show that snippets of Thelonious Monk tunes and even a portion of the standard “April in Paris” where slipped in at various points, but none were outwardly detectable save for a general Monk-like playfulness in the ensemble interplay. What was instead apparent was a tireless improviser in full muscular form. But this time, he also showed just how intense a little hushed unrest can be alongside all the fireworks.



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