As of December 2019, this all-horns trio had been playing together intermittently but enthusiastically over 8 years. In that time, the music magically evolved into a seamless fit. The May 2015 ten-city tour starting in Chicago and heading south, north and east from there really made it clear just how interesting and expansive this trio’s music could get.
And then the Covid Era took over. So here we are on the other side of that, we hope in 2023 looking forward to the April 20 — 28, 2023 tour, also Spectral“s first tour together in Europe. Details on the 8-city tour can be found under EVENTS on this website.
This free-improvising trio came together in the fall of 2011, when Rempis journeyed to the West Coast to discover some things about his compatriots on the Bay Area improvising scene. Trumpeter Johnston, a frequent visitor to Chicago, where the two had collaborated in several different settings in the years prior, suggested this trio lineup for a performance at Oakland’s Uptown Nightclub. Although Rempis hadn’t worked with Ochs before, the latter’s renowned experience in the all-horn lineup of The ROVA Saxophone Quartet made the idea especially appealing. From the first few notes, that initial meeting flowed comfortably, yet in totally unexpected ways, with all three making logical structural decisions that gave their improvisations the feel of through-composed pieces.
Eager to continue developing this language that the three later came to dub “invisible architecture,” Rempis made a follow-up trip to the Bay Area in the spring of 2012 for two more concerts and a studio recording session. Spectral, the first document of their work, was the result of that visit, and shows an improvising trio playing out an audible game of chess. Not satisfied with simply existing in the moment, these three combine sensibilities to look many moves ahead, setting each other up time and again to capitalize on structural possibilities that give rare and meaningful form to an otherwise very spontaneous music.
Two more recordings followed Spectral. A live, digital-only recording was released (and is still available from the label Aerophonic), recorded at the 2015 Buffalo, NY concert. Entitled Neutral Nation, this recording features two very long tracks which absolutely sound composed; the structures are spontaneously created as the music flows beautifully throughout. To quote a review from the www.freejazzblog.org: ...architecturally on a grander scale with two long improvisations recorded during their 2015 tour of North America, replete with the kind of interlaced musical connections and reconnections suggested by the title ...There is nothing traditional about the work of this trio, the lack of rhythm and harmonic support leaves a big space for their ideas to grow. And grow they do as evidenced by the two long tracks presented here. As 'Pierce Arrow' starts, the intensity of listening and reacting that this trio engages in becomes obvious - snippets will often connect, though sometimes not, friendly dissonances and passionate musical arguments arise, all connecting with a larger musical purpose… A companion piece to Spectral, Neutral Nation is an excellent reminder of the magic of live playing and pure improvisation, taking their previously recorded concept one step further.
The third recording, entitled Empty Castles, is a 2018 CD of shorter pieces, all recorded in 2017 at an abandoned munitions bunker in California. Excessive natural reverberence influences all the music, recorded in this large empty space with microphones placed in front, above and around the musicians. Starkly beautiful, each piece deals with the acoustic conditions in different ways.
Learn more about this horn trio that embraces sincere musical freedom and tonal exploration:
“Bay Area trumpeter Darren Johnston first visited Chicago in the mid-aughts, quickly establishing ties with local musicians that have yielded recordings, ongoing partnerships, and shared gigs here and in California. But of course he also has enduring alliances back home, including one with tenor and sopranino saxophonist Larry Ochs (ROVA Saxophone Quartet, What We Live, Larry Ochs Sax & Drumming Core). Last year Johnston hosted Chicago saxophonist Dave Rempis at a concert that also included Ochs, and when the three men got onstage together, the chemistry was immediate and incendiary. Horn-only ensembles tend to fall into two categories: either they take a figure-and-ground approach, with one or more players acting as a de facto rhythm section, or they turn into free- for-all blowouts. This trio’s music is like improvised carpentry, making elegant constructions out of each horn’s complete range of sounds, both customary and unexpected.” — Bill Meyer, Chicago Reader
Dave Rempis → Alto Saxophone Visit Website
Dave Rempis was born in Wellesley, Massachusetts on March 24th, 1975. He began his musical studies at the age of 8, inspired by a family friend who played clarinet in local Greek bands, and by Zoot, of the Muppets Band, to pick up saxophone. During high school he performed in his town, district, and all-state bands and wind ensembles, as well as in a jazz combo at a local music school.
During his tenure with The Vandermark Five, Rempis also began to develop the many Chicago-based groups for which he is currently known. These include The Rempis Percussion Quartet, The Engines, The Rempis/Rosaly Duo, The Outskirts, Ballister, The Rempis/Daisy Duo, Bishop/Rempis/Kessler/Zerang, and Wheelhouse. Past working groups include Triage, and the Dave Rempis Quartet. Many of these groups have been documented on the Okkadisk, 482 Music, Not Two, MultiKulti, Solitaire, and Utech record labels. Rempis also performs and tours with Ken Vandermark’s Territory Band and Resonance Project, and The Ingebrigt Haker-Flaten Quintet. Past collaborations have included performances with Paul Lytton, Axel Dörner, Peter Brötzmann, Hamid Drake, Steve Swell, John Tchicai, Roscoe Mitchell, Fred Anderson, Kevin Drumm, Paal Nilssen-Love, Nels Cline, Tony Buck, and Joe McPhee. Rempis has been named three times in the annual Downbeat Critics’s Poll as a rising star in both the alto and baritone saxophone categories.
Darren Johnston → Trumpet Visit Website
Since settling in San Francisco in 1997, Canada-born trumpeter/composer/songwriter Darren Johnston has collaborated and recorded with an extremely diverse cross-section of artists, yet always finds ways to be true to his own unique voice in each context. From straight-ahead jazz luminaries such as bassist/composer Marcus Shelby, to experimental icons like ROVA, Fred Frith and Myra Melford, rising star in the singer/songwriter world like Meklit Hadero, or traditional Balkan brass band giants Brass Menazeri. As a bandleader he has made his mark with the award winning The Nice Guy Trio, The Darren Johnston Quintet, the category defying Broken Shadows, and more. Johnston was featured as one of Downbeat Magazine’s “25 Trumpeters for the Future,” and has been listed multiple times in the critic’s polls. His debut quintet recording, “The Edge of the Forest” received four stars by four very different critics in the Downbeat “Critics Polls,” and was given an honorable mention by the Village Voice for the top 10 CDs of the year. Johnston has a BA from the Cincinnati Conservatory of music, and an MFA in composition from Mills College. He has received commissions for dance companies such as Kunst-Stoff, and Robert Moses’ Kin, and AXIS Dance, presenting organizations such as Intersection for the Arts, the De Young Museum, and the Yerbas Buena Garden Festival, and his music has been used in a few independent films. His original works have been supported by the Zellerbach Family Fund, Meet the Composer, and SF Friends of Chamber Music. In June of 2013, he will premiere his upcoming commission from the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival, “Letters From Home,” developed in collaboration with choreographer Erika Chong Shuch, for which he is forming a multi-generational chorus with over eighty participants, the Trans-Global People’s Chorus. As an educator, Johnston currently teaches privately, at the Community Music Center in San Francisco’s Mission district, the Oakland School for the Arts, and as adjunct faculty at the University of California, Berkeley.
Larry Ochs → Sopranino and Tenor Saxophones
As a member of Rova Saxophone Quartet since 1977, Larry Ochs has made more than two-dozen CDs and 40 tours to Europe and Japan. He has recorded dozens of CDs with his other touring bands including Larry Ochs Sax & Drumming Core with Scott Amendola, Don Robinson, Satoko Fujii, and Natsuki Tamura ("Stone Shift"- 2009 CD; next CD in 2015 on Rogue Art) and Kihnoua with vocalist/performance artist Dohee Lee, Scott Amendola and special guests ("The Sybil’s Whisper"- 2012 CD - music samples here). He is performing in and composing for more “collective” bands such as: East-West Collective - with Didier Petit, Sylvain Kassap, Miya Masaoka, Xu Fengxia ("Humeurs" - 2014 CD - music samples); Ochs-Robinson Duo with drummer Don Robinson (2014 CD = The Throne – www.larryochs.nadcamp.com); Jones Jones - with Mark Dresser and Vladimir Tarasov ("We All Feel the Same Way"- 2010 CD- music samples); Maybe Monday - with Miya Masaoka and Fred Frith (Unsquare -2008 CD); Shelton-Ochs Quartet with Aram Shelton, Kjell Nordeson and Mark Dresser; Trio Dave Rempis- Darren Johnston- Larry Ochs (Spectral- 2014 CD - preview track). He has performed with Kronos Quartet, John Zorn, Steve Lacy, Anthony Braxton, Nels Cline, John Lindberg, Scott Amendola, Andrew Cyrille, Butch Morris, Marilyn Crispell, Henry Kaiser, Wadada Leo Smith, Peggy Lee and many others).