Essential New Music: Rempis / Parker / Flaten / Cunningham’s “Stringers And Struts”

This quartet gathered for the first—and so far only—time on a late summer night when everyone happened to be playing other gigs at last year’s Chicago Jazz Festival. While only two of the musicians currently live in the city, the other have called it home in times past; also, each one has prior associations with one or two of the other players. So, while there are vast differences between their best-known projects—saxophonist Dave Rempis’ impassioned free jazz, guitarist Jeff Parker’s recordings with Tortoise and the New Breed, drummer Jeremy Cunningham’s melodic explorations of emotional processes and the punk-jazz brew that Ingebrigt Håker Flaten played as a member of the Thing—there are also bonds of shared understanding that transcend style.  

These bonds create an underlying foundation of trust and respect, which is audible from the first notes of Stringers And Struts. Rempis and Parker set things in motion by playing a pair themes that can be heard as proposals for where the music might go. Initially, each man develops his own idea while simultaneously supporting the other’s, but as the duet plays out over a couple minutes, the music draws together into a unified statement. Then the bass and drums blow in like a gust of wind, stoking intensity and building momentum.

The music takes on a locomotive quality, with each man tossing intricate lines, choppy retorts and surging pulses into the blaze like a squad of firemen shoveling coal into the steam engine. But that metaphor only holds for so long, as the music pivots toward other dynamics. There are passages of abstract exchange, unified lyricism and determined bearing down upon a groove, each developed at length. Listen close and you can hear the musicians pick up on each other’s signals.

Stringers And Struts not only delivers upon the promise that you’ll hear how the players worked it out, but also lets you in on the process by which they did so. 

—Bill Meyer