One of two of the initial releases on Chicago saxophone player Dave Rempis’ own Aerophonic Records, “Boss of the Plains” features Rempis’ trio Wheelhouse. Also including vibist Jason Adasiewicz and bassist Nate McBride, this small group creates a sound to clutch and be with and recognize as exquisitely melodic.
Each song title carries the word “song,” perhaps unusually for improvised music. The songs are sung through Rempis’ reed mostly on his alto, once on bari-sax. They touch a wide spectrum of expression from loving to melancholic, from curious to agitated. Rempis’ playing is pure and bold rather than aggressive; tender and close to him rather than outside, raucous or seemingly uncontrolled. His phrasing demonstrates his sensitivity to rhythm and the invention of language. His playing is unique and reaffirms that growth in the music can occur without holding tightly to predecessors. Rempis is free.
Absolutely the best of contemporary vibists, Adasiewicz intervenes singularly or coincides with the horn and bass, perfectly placing repeated complementary tempos or bright series of clips to the vibe bars. He can extend reverberations which magically change pitch and shape. The softness of his sound can often lend mildness to the metallic edginess of the saxophone or the reverse can happen: the horn’s sound can be round and the vibes can sound tinny and percussive. Adasiewicz often plays against the pizzicato or bowing of the bass strings to buoy up the reed-iness or stressed strength of the horn.
Nonetheless, bassist McBride contributes to the musical conversation a backbone tonality that grounds the horn and vibes. Without a smack of bravura, he fills the soundspace with more space; he widens the scope to keep the horn and vibes in form.
Each member of the trio is equally important. There are solos but no playing for the spotlight. Wheelhouse is in balance and wielding its place in the sun.