Photo: Ibelisse Guardia Ferragutti
Percussionist Frank Rosaly is a busy guy. He’s just released his second solo album, and is featured on the latest discs from the Rempis Percussion Quartet and cornet player Josh Berman‘s trio.
Malo, released on the Utech label like its predecessor, 2013’s Centering and Displacement, is made up of five discrete pieces ranging from just under four minutes to nearly 14, creating haunting/haunted moods that mix percussive eruptions with carefully deployed interludes of silence. Rosaly strikes, rubs and scrapes a wide variety of drums, small objects, and other surfaces, and brings in subtle electronics as well. The results are noisy, at times furious, but also dark and brooding; the CD absolutely lives up to its title (“evil” in Spanish). It’s easy to recommend it to fans of dark ambient music, noise, modern composition/New Music, or avant-garde metal, not quite so easy to encourage jazz fans to check it out.
Stream Malo on Bandcamp:
The Rempis Percussion Quartet, led by saxophonist Dave Rempis and also featuring bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, plus Rosaly and Tim Daisy on drums, is a more traditional free jazz group, on the raucous side (the bassist also plays with The Thing). They’ve been around since 2004 and have toured extensively, mostly in Europe. (They’re currently on their first North American tour since 2007; check Rempis’s site for dates.) They’ve put out seven releases to date, including three on 482 Music; their last two, 2013’s Phalanx and the brand-new Cash and Carry, are on Rempis’s own Aerophonic label. Phalanx was a two-CD set recorded at live shows in Milwaukee and Antwerp; Cash and Carry documents a Chicago performance. Each set features only two long pieces; the full “Water Foul Run Amok,” excerpted below, lasts nearly 40 minutes. It’s intense music that barrels forward with ferocious energy and momentum, carrying the listener along in such a way that time ceases to matter.
Stream “Water Foul Run Amok” from Cash and Carry:
The Josh Berman Trio is just as different from the other two projects as they are from each other. The group’s debut album, A Dance and a Hop, is made up of 11 short tracks, most in the three- to four-minute range, and they have a lightness that’s somewhere between old-timey jazz, the loping and fluttering of Don Cherry, and the abstract explorations of Bill Dixon. This is easily the least aggressive and the prettiest of the three albums, but there’s still an intellectual rigor to the music that balances the (relatively) traditional, swinging grooves Rosaly explores.
Rosaly answered a few questions via email.
Your first album for Utech was more of a sound art piece, while this one is more documentary/performative in nature. Are there any connections (philosophical, methodological, conceptual) between the two, for you, or are they completely separate works?
Malo and Centering and Displacement were derived in completely different fashions. In the last year or so I have been dealing with an immense awakening and thankfulness. Malo is a series of improvised pieces I played over two days in an attempt to focus my attention on great influences in my life. Each piece was performed after I spent time in meditation on a particular person. Then I would move on to another person in my mind, meditate, then perform. To me, this created a path of deep connection between the music and intention behind each improvisation, which is an offering of appreciation to those who have touched me deeply. Centering and Displacement is essentially musique concréte, derived from eight hours of improvisational performance chopped up and manipulated in post-production by way of serial techniques. To compare the two records feels like a study in contrast in regards to intention.
What was the recording process like for Malo, and what were your inspirations and guiding concept throughout its creation?
The process was essentially a little “stay-cation” in one of my favorite studios in Chicago, Kingsize, with John Abbey at the board. I wanted to squeeze out a little time to enjoy myself playing some music without any concern for the outcome. I was just planning on recording the stuff to then send to each individual for whom I played, like little gifts…chilling with friends and family in my mind.
There are a lot of different types of rhythms, and additional sound sources beyond percussion, on the album; the tracks are compositions, not just drum solos. What’s your mindset as a composer, when putting together work like this?
Since the material started to resonate with me as an album after I heard it a few times, I didn’t concern myself with anything other than finding a nice sequence of the pieces I picked for the record. That was a difficult thing for me to do because I do think compositionally, admittedly, to a fault. To play in a way that was more akin to sacred geometry and then to put that on a record was quite a challenge for me. Granted, when I improvised these pieces, I didn’t not think compositionally, as it’s part of how I think and who I am. However, I did allow myself to be less tidy with compositional detail and internal reference. These pieces were conceived more freely than that, which is why I am so happy it’s on record. I’m presenting the result of an uncomfortable process. For that reason I feel like it’s a worthy document of free improvisation.
The Rempis Percussion Quartet recently released the album Cash and Carry—what’s that group’s dynamic, and how has it evolved over time? How do you and Tim Daisy work together—do you enjoy communicating with another drummer that way?
The group’s dynamic? I think it’s a great balance of tension and release. Everyone in the band are such a different players, which is great! We all conceive, bend and will ourselves to the band sound. The group delivers night after night with consistency and power. Tim and I are very different players. Hmmm. To describe it maybe I can say Tim is clean and I am super blurry. I feel he creates a lot of clear, defined moments in the music. I can join that definition, but I also have the freedom to deconstruct it because he’s so powerful and gravitational. It’s a rare opportunity that I get to do that with another drummer!
The Josh Berman Trio album, A Dance and a Hop, is the most conventionally “jazzy” of your recent releases. Is that a working band, or a group that came together for the album? What can you say about that group’s language, and that side of your playing?
The trio hasn’t played as much as I’d like, certainly. We have only played a handful of shows over the last several years. I do think that band is a working band in that, conceptually, we are all thinking about music as art, about concept and aesthetic. I believe that we are all super busy with that, working constantly at developing and investigating our personal voices on our instruments. Because each individual is thinking on this level, whenever we do get together it’s like the band has been playing a five-night-a-week steady for years…
I do and I don’t think of this music as jazzy. I think of it as a deconstruction of jazz for sure. You hear that in the material and the reference to swing. But what I feel is so singular and breathtaking about playing with Jason Roebke and Josh Berman is that the ideas are super fresh. If you listen to the ideas and not focus on the reference in which the music is grounded, you’ll hear just how super-new the music actually is. It’s a development, not a study in jazz.