Music News & Reviews

Sax/drum duo has no need for a guitarist

Dave Rempis/Frank Rosaly Duo

8 p.m. Dec. 12 at Al's Bar, Sixth St. and Limestone. $5. (859) 252-9104.

Saxophone and drums have long been complementary instruments when traveling avenues of blues, soul and jazz.

But usually such explorations bring along some support. Another lead voice or rhythmic device figures into the music. And certainly there is bass to harness the groove and melody.

Well, imagine what would happen if sax and drums snuck off to the bandstand and left everyone else at home. That's the idea that two vanguard artists of the current Chicago improvisational music scene, Dave Rempis and Frank Rosaly, are running with on a soon-to-be-released album, Cyrillic, and a two-week, 12-city tour that ends Saturday with a performance at Al's Bar.

The show is part of the Outside the Spotlight Series.

Admittedly, sax and drum duos aren't all that rare. There have been masterful examples, the most critically lauded being John Coltrane and Rashied Ali on the groundbreaking 1967 recording Interstellar Space. Other strong examples include a partnership between British saxophonist John Surman and landmark American drummer Jack DeJohnette (exquisitely displayed on the 2003 ECM album Free and Equal), the teaming of Memphis-born journeyman Charles Lloyd and the late hard bop/free jazz stylist Billy Higgins (chronicled on 2004's spiritually inclined Which Way Is East) and the Chicago-based pairing of Ken Vandermark and Tim Daisy, who played in Lexington at an Outside the Spotlight concert in 2008.

Cyrillic isn't so much a successor to those projects as simply an addition. Rempis, in fact, has played in sax/drum duos with Daisy in Kentucky. But like all great improvised works, the duo's instrumental makeup plays less of a role in the resulting music than the conversational sense established between the players. Such a spirit definitely fuels the fire between Rempis and Rosaly, who also collaborate in The Rempis Percussion Quartet, The Outskirts with Norwegian bassist Ingebrigt Haker Flaten, and a quintet led by Haker Flaten.

Although Rempis and Rosaly have performed sporadically as a duo since 2004 and worked together in various band settings for nearly a decade, Cyrillic is their first recording as a two-man unit.

The album's vocabulary is vast. The album-opening Antiphony allows Rempis to explore the spaces in and around Rosaly's drum chatter. The music intensifies and dissipates throughout, but the dialogue firmly established at the onset of the tune remains vibrant. The tenor sax and percussion scuffles open further on Don't Trade Here, while the album's centerpiece, a 15-minute excursion called How to Cross When Bridges Are Out, begins initially with subtle, playful exchanges before building to a full, volcanic boil.

The album won't officially be released until January, but it will be available at the Al's performance. That's all the more reason to welcome these longtime Outside the Spotlight pals back to town on Saturday.

Last call for 'WoodSongs' in 2009

WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour closes out the year Monday with a face both familiar and unexpected. One of the featured guests will be Ronny Cox, an actor whose résumé lists countless film and TV projects including all of the Beverly Hills Cop films, RoboCop and, my favorite, 1979's extraordinary The Onion Field. Shoot, Cox was even on late-night TV last week about to cook Arnold Schwarzenegger's goose in Total Recall.

But Cox's first movie, 1972's Deliverance, better explains why he is turning up at WoodSongs. There he helped bring Dueling Banjos to life. The music on Cox's new album, Songs ... With Repercussions, veer more to Texas folk and Western swing.

The bluegrass duties on Monday will be assigned to the Michigan string band Lonesome County. (6:45 p.m., $10. (859) 252-8888 for reservations.)

WoodSongs will resume Jan. 11.