Music Reviews from the Staff of the Poison Pie Publishing House
August 16, 2020
Of Things Beyond Thule Volumes 1 & 2 - Joe McPhee, Dave Rempis, Tomeka Reid, Brandon Lopez and Paal Nilssen-Love
Label: Aerophonic Records or bandcamp
Catalog #: Volume 1: 024 & Volume 2: 026
Country: United States
Release Date: Volume 1: February 18, 2020 & Volume 2: May 19, 2020
Media: Volume 1: lp only & Volume 2: cd & digital download
discogs.com: Volume 1 & Volume 2
bandcamp.com: Volume 1 & Volume 2
Thule is the farthest north location mentioned in ancient Greek and Roman literature and cartography. Modern interpretations have included Orkney, Shetland, northern Scotland, the island of Saaremaa (Ösel) in Estonia, and the Norwegian island of Smøla.
In classical and medieval literature, ultima Thule (Latin "farthermost Thule") acquired a metaphorical meaning of any distant place located beyond the "borders of the known world".
—wikipedia, oracle of all contemporary knowledge
The recording, Of Things Beyond Thule, is taken from a live performance on December 16 2018 at The Hungry Brain in Chicago, Illinois. It features the quintet of Joe McPhee on pocket trumpet & tenor saxophone, Dave Rempis on alto, tenor & baritone saxophones, Tomeka Reid on cello and a rhythm section composed of Brandon Lopez (bass) and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums). The recording is distributed over two independent releases, the first of which is a limited edition vinyl-only release (still--at time of writing) available exclusively from Dave Rempis' label, Aerophonic Records and the second released on cd. (We don't pretend to fully understand the rationale in releasing two volumes of a recording on different media, but we do note that it is not without precedent. Another example that comes to mind is Two City Blues by the trio of Keiji Haino, Jim O'Rourke & Peter Brötzmann in which volume one was released only on vinyl and volume two only on cd.)
Qaanaaq formerly and still popularly known as Thule or New Thule, is the main town in the northern part of the Avannaata municipality in northwestern Greenland. It is one of the northernmost towns in the world. The inhabitants of Qaanaaq speak the local Inuktun language and many also speak Kalaallisut and Danish. The town has a population of 646 as of 2020.
The first volume of Of Things Beyond Thule is a long improvisational narrative, titled, Qaanaaq distributed over both sides of the lp. In truth, the staff of the Poison Pie Publishing House picked up this recording because of their on-going interest in the musical exploration of Tomeka Reid. On the PPPH blog, we had a few months earlier featured a quote from Ms. Reid from the third volume of William Parker's interviews with musicians, Conversations III (RogueArt, Paris, 2019) and our appetite for new ensembles in which her cello interacted with other creative musicians had not been sated. The other four members of the ensemble were known to us in varying degrees from all sorts of directions, including Nation Time (Joe McPhee, 1971), Marylin Crispell's Collaborations (Paal Nilssen-Love, 2009), Ivo Perelman's Octagon (Brandon Lopez, 2017) and Dave Rempis from his trio with Tomeka Reid and Joshua Abrams, Ithra (2018).
As a result, we were super excited to hear what this quintet had to say. With the first volume we were not disappointed in the least. In fact, the quality and originality of the improvisation exceeded any reasonable expectations. The sympathetic playing of the musicians is immediately apparent and the varied style of the thirty-six minutes hearkens back to rhythms of living of folks in places as distant as Qaanaaq. The music is simultaneously both alien and familiar. Released in February, it was so early in the year but it seemed destined to become a high-light of 2020. While the year is not over (this review is written belatedly in August), it remains one of our favorite records released thus far in 2020.
By a route obscure and lonely,
Haunted by ill angels only,
Where an Eidolon, named NIGHT,
On a black throne reigns upright,
I have reached these lands but newly
From an ultimate dim Thule—
From a wild weird clime that lieth, sublime,
Out of SPACE—Out of TIME.
—from Dream-Land, by Edgar Allan Poe
Needless to say, when the second volume appeared in the midst of the pandemic quarantine in May, 2020, we eagerly pursued it. The second volume comes from the same date and bears some similarities but is significantly different in style. We feel no compulsion to create original words when there is already an accurate comparison available elsewhere. As the press release states, "In comparison to volume 1, a long-form piece in which slow development and pacing took precedence, the band brings the fire on Volume 2; one that burns magnesium bright." This description is certainly valid. Volume 1 was culled from the second set of the performance, while Volume 2 contains material from the first set. It seems that the quintet, a group that had never come together before and might never assemble again, had some messages they wanted to make sure were communicated to the audience while they were all in the room together. Once this sense of urgency was satisfied, the second set allowed them to take their time in exploring their communal creative impulses in a more leisurely way. Both volumes contain music in which it is easy to find something interesting, but the first volume especially appealed to us, at first listen and again and again in many subsequent listenings in the months since.
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