Essential New Music: Rempis/Abrams/Ra + Baker’s “Apsis”

An “apsis” is the nearest or farthest point of a planet’s orbit. It’s a handy metaphor for the dynamics of this quartet, which draws together four Chicago improvisers from different cohorts. Saxophonist Dave Rempis and bassist Joshua Abrams each came to the city in the 1990s; synth/piano player Jim Baker and drummer Avreeayl Ra have each been on the scene for decades. They all specialize in creating longform, unscripted pieces that range widely in style and mood, but always sustain a lucid narrative thread.

In other words, Rempis, Abrams, Ra and Baker can devise tunes strong enough to stick in your head and grooves that’ll move you on the fly. But they’re willing to shift away from what they’ve invented and dive into a maelstrom to see what comes up next. The “+” in the band’s moniker denotes Baker’s status as the its walk-on wild card; he flits from complimentary accompaniment to productive disruption, alternately energizing and corroding the ensemble’s interplay with acid bubbles from his ARP synthesizer. 

—Bill Meyer