Dave Rempis – Darren Johnston – Larry Ochs (aka SPECTRAL) / Neutral Nation

Dave Rempis alto/baritone saxophone; Darren Johnston trumpet; Larry Ochs sopranino/tenor saxophone


1. Pierce Arrow (28:42) / 2. Seven Little Buffaloes (20:24)

All compositions by Rempis/Johnston/Ochs. Recorded live at Hallwalls in Buffalo, NY, May 21st, 2015 by Bill Sack, Design by Johnathan Crawford, Produced by Dave Rempis.

Special thanks to David Kennedy, Steve Baczkowski, and all of the folks at Hallwalls, as well as to Kate Dumbleton for her ongoing support of this project and so many others. Released March 8, 2016

This live recording finds the collaborative trio of Rempis, Johnston, and Ochs hard at work in the middle of their first full-on North American tour in May of 2015. Documenting a concert from the landmark venue Hallwalls in Buffalo, NY, the trio follows up on their 2014 release Spectral, having taken their unique approach to spontaneous composition to the next level through the crucible that only touring can provide. On this new recording they tackle two pieces that are significantly more extended than the ones documented on that earlier release, while still employing the same core strategy that made that recording so compelling; an ability to look far down the road in order to anticipate the larger structures that can emerge from even the slightest gesture. The trio moves with patience, and capitalizes on space, waiting for the appropriate moments to strike, always at the service of the ensemble motion.

As this process unfolds, they employ a seemingly endless wealth of musical approaches, in which lush harmonies dissolve into breathy overtones and tea kettle whispers, which then shift into snarls and smears of sound built up thick and chunky on the canvas. At other times, all three show the ability to swoop in like so many vultures, pile onto a phrase, and then drop off individually as if falling off their own respective cliff. Meanwhile the rough and tumble timbres of Ochs’ gruff but tender tenor sound mix with Johnston’s seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of the myriad mute techniques of the early-Ellington trumpet sections, to create a pallet of unbelievable breadth. This live document truly shows a band at a creative and developmental peak.


Neutral Nation included in Paul Acquaro's Top 10 of 2016

— Paul Acquaro December 2016

Rempis' Aeophonic seems to be in the running for label of year! This recording catches a hot gig of this road-tested trio's abstract and cooperative playing.

Neutral Nation reviewed by "Music and More"

— Tim Niland August 2016

This is a very interesting recording of the ongoing collaborative horn trio of Dave Rempis on alto and baritone saxophones, Darren Johnston on trumpet and Larry Ochs on tenor and sopranino saxophones. The music was recorded live in Buffalo, NY during their May 2015 North American tour.

This album is very dynamic and textural, moving from a whisper to a scream but also using the breadth and width of their individual instruments to create a very unique sound environment. Calling their approach to music spontaneous composition rather than free jazz, they move into areas that are significantly more extensive while still employing the same core focus.

There are two very long performances, "Pierce Arrow" that is nearly one-half hour in length, and "Seven Little Buffalos" that is just over twenty minutes long. These long running times allow the musicians to explore the sounds they are creating at length, with persistence, interacting with each other and the space that surrounds them. Moving from subtle slurs to raw squeals, the music remains unpredictable throughout the album. The instruments are all on a level playing field, working together for a greater good. There are some passages for individuals, and they carry them off very well showing many ideas, but group interaction is the focus with the trio coming together again and again with raw and circling improvisation. Dynamics move from hard to soft and from fast to slow, keeping the music unpredictable as the waves of sound build structurally as strong hard blowing encourages the whole band coalesce. Fresh powerful saxophones cry out emotionally, culminating in massive full throttle playing followed by a drop off to circular wails of saxophone and trumpet. The trio moves with fortitude, and exploits the available space, waiting for the right moment to shift the dynamic field of the music, with group interaction at the forefront. As the musical process develops, the trio uses a seemingly endless variety of musical approaches, in which quiet and soft passages dissolve into whispers, which then shift into snarls and screams of sound that build up to a very powerful and provocative sensibility. On other occasions, all three members of the trio show the ability to swoop and swirl like birds or insects, coming together, and then dropping off individually like planes in formation suddenly splitting apart. Meanwhile the rough and tumble emotional sounds of the saxophonists often gruff but tender sounds mix with the trumpeter’s method of approaching improvisation, creating a large musical map to explore.

Todd McComb's "Jazz Thoughts" on Neutral Nation

— Todd McComb May 2016

Back in July 2014, I discussed Spectral by the horn trio of Dave Rempis, Darren Johnston & Larry Ochs. Indeed, it inaugurated a series of related discussions at the time. Now the trio has a second album, Neutral Nation (recorded on tour in Buffalo in May 2015), also on Rempis's Aerophonic Records, but this time as a "digital"-only release. Neutral Nation consists of two longish tracks, with the three horns projecting (from) what is often a rather stark texture. The accompanying discussion suggests that the musicians adopt "strategies," and "anticipate structures" so as to find "appropriate moments to strike." Such a sense of anticipation might be said to yield to a sense of waiting at various points (again, one might argue that it invokes the quasi-messianism that seems to have become a characteristic of our paralyzed age).

The first track is rather quiet, particularly early on, with a great deal of space for the performers, quite unlike the sort of "turn on a dime"-style ensemble cohesion that one hears on e.g. Ochs' recent album, The Fictive Five. Indeed, one might hear the music as a series of calls, calls to which there isn't so much a response as an elaboration, or simply another call. (And who are they calling?) Such an approach seems either relentlessly positive (given no countervailing tendency) or plaintive, depending, and the calls sometimes take on a more assertive quality. Moreover, they suggest an empty landscape (as opposed to e.g. Bill Dixon's trumpet calls over a carefully constructed landscape), and the closely maintained emptiness (i.e. neutrality?) of that landscape might well be reflected in the album title. (Johnston's recent album with Fred Frith, Everybody's Somebody's Nobody on Clean Feed, also comes off as calls across a landscape at times, in that case a frequently quiet, yet non-empty landscape constructed by Frith.) In that sense, the album might be characterized as being entirely foreground (i.e. no background, and certainly no carefully constructed temporal background as per e.g. Braxton, as discussed last month), with the "strategies" the musicians employ serving to preserve the stark neutrality against which the horns call. Do they generate a territory? Is it a shared territory? Is it contested? (The starkness & poise of Neutral Nation might be compared to Cookbook, which does also include plucked bass that can seem jarring in the all-horn context. Of course, I had already compared Spectral to World of Objects, which involves swirling, collision, etc. rather than space & neutrality. In other words, these other albums show more willingness to create shared contexts out of their musical material.)

Whereas the first track, which I find to be unique, and so wanted to give a more extended discussion, seems to generate a feeling of nakedness (which is sometimes uncomfortable for the listener) in its refusal to create a context separate (or arising) from its many calls, the second track immediately takes up a more contrapuntal orientation (first via hocket), and now seems willing to imply a harmonic context at various points. Is this a progression toward building something after the space-dominated opening, or just a different "structure" for the musicians to anticipate? I don't know, but what intrigued me about the album was the sections where the musicians steadfastly avoid creating a harmonic (or similar) context, leaving their horn calls open-ended & unanswered.

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