Flirting with Chaos

The Rempis Percussion Quartet rips and tears at jazz historyView all events this week »


by Kevin Crowe

Rempisâ’ Percussion Quartet is on the stage. Dave Rempis, decade-long staple of Chicagoâ’s hectic jazz scene, holds his sax at the ready. He closes his eyes for a second, waiting for the right moment. The percussion growls, grumbles in the background, a fierce roar of tribal beats. Tim Daisy and Frank Rosaly, both seated behind trap sets, have never drummed so hardâ"gaining momentum, building towards an ear-splitting crescendo that never seems to come. Their sound covers the room like a fog, always flirting with chaos, promising one sweet moment of pure sonic anarchy.

Out here, thereâ’s beauty in the chaos. And thereâ’s nothing but possibility, as Rempis carefully breathes life into his sax, huffing out the twisted, skronky lines that spike so eloquently on top of the percussion bedlam. Rempis screams over both drummers, and sharp, angry notes blast outward. Then, as if the music has been grafted onto their subconscious, Rempis and Co. slow it down, playing like itâ’s an old standard. Anton Hatwichâ’s walking bass lines pick up the slack. Thereâ’s breathing room before the next onslaught begins.

â“Itâ’s hard to duplicate what happens in a live setting,â” Rempis says. â“Itâ’s kind of interesting to see how it evolves.â”

At best, this quartet feels stream-of-consciousness, constantly bending the audienceâ’s expectations. At its worst, itâ’s a small part of a much larger musical experiment. Thatâ’s whatâ’s happening in Chicago, and it had been happening long before Rempis moved into the city in â’97. Scores of freaky jazzmen continue to come to the Windy City just for an opportunity to play alchemist with sound. Traditional jazz breaks down, ever so carefully, and these explorers of dada-jazz go as far out as the music can take them.

â“Thereâ’s always been a strong improvised music scene in Chicago,â” Rempis goes on. â“There are people making a living at it, but not manyâ. Part of it is the economic situation of the city. Itâ’s not as brutal as New York. You can work a job 20-25 hours a week and pursue music. You have time to do what you want.â”

Zoot, the blue-skinned saxman from the Muppet Showâ’s The Electric Mayhem, was an early influence on Rempis. By the third grade, he was playing an old Selmer Bundy. â“Itâ’s basically the standard student saxophone,â” he says. In â’98, as fate would have it, Rempis met up with Ken Vandermark, who was already legendary among Chicagoâ’s early stock of jazzheads.

â“When I joined the Vandermark 5 in â’98, I probably wasnâ’t ready to be in the band,â” he admits. â“I definitely had a good opportunity there. Iâ’ve grown mentally over the years.â”

And he keeps growing. Last yearâ’s Rip, Tear, Crunch is a tapestry stitched together by erratic motifs and dense, nuanced textures as sounds blend into one another.

The latest album, Hunter-Gatherers, can feel less precise, less agitated. Each time Rempis huffs out a few alto and tenor lines over the background noise, heâ’s finding a way to control chaos, at least for a short moment, right before the percussion builds up again. The beats grow louder, angrier than before. The sax plays them into submission once again, of course. And so it goes.

â“Thereâ’s a whole different range of possibilities. Itâ’s kind of interesting,â” Rempis continues. â“Itâ’s kind of building on things weâ’ve been working on for a while.â”

More Music. American Music: The KSO & UT Symphony Orchestra

WHO: Rempis Percussion Quartet w/ Bright Shuttle WHEN: Saturday, Oct. 6, 10 p.m. WHERE: Pilot Light


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