The Chicago new-music drummer Tim Daisy keeps extraordinarily busy, and for good reason. In addition to his percussion wizardry, which results from a combination of technique, imagination, and innovation, he has proved himself ridiculously versatile.
So Daisy remains in near-constant demand to a wide range of artists, leading bands that run the gamut of improvised music in Chicago – from the structured formalism that guides his work in the quartet KLANG, to the full-tilt energy playing he contributes to separate projects headed up by Dave Rempis and Ken Vandermark, two of the city’s most ferocious saxophonists (including Vandermark’s current quartet called Made To Break).
But even with all that going on, we don’t usually get the chance to hear Daisy in three different contexts within 50 hours. That’s the case this week, starting with tonight’s performance by Rempis’s quartet The Engines, which hits at 9:30 at The Whistler (2421 N. Milwaukee).
The Engines is among my favorite bands, and not just in Chicago: relatively few groups on the national scene offer such a fortunate blend of seasoned improvisation, memorable compositions, and dynamic empathy. They boast a seamless interaction among all four members, but especially between the front line – containing two of the city’s premier soloists (Rempis on reed and Jeb Bishop on trombone) – and the rhythm tandem of Daisy and bassist Nate McBride.
At this point, pianoless quartets are nothing new; in fact, they’re the standard-bearers of the jazz avant-garde, in the same way the horns-with-piano quintet once defined bebop. But only those bands with a suitable rhythm section can project the depth that the piano once supplied. And this is where Daisy’s blend of power and finesse come to the fore; in fact, I’ll go so far as to say that no other band does a better job of showcasing the full measure of his abilities.
When The Engines rock out, Daisy sits at the heart of the maelstrom. But even then, he brings an orchestrator’s ear to his instrument, repositioning the pulse across the trap set’s components and adding details of color and shading that you might not expect in such instances. And on less intense passages or pieces, he indulges those details to create tapestries of sound, weaving in red and gold threads of snare and cymbal.
While you can hear Daisy at his centered best in The Engines, his subsequent two appearances present him toward one and then the other spectrum of his range. At approximately 11 on Wednesday at The Hideout (1354 W. Wabansia), Daisy will join Vandermark and the astonishing trumpeter Peter Evans in a fully improvised trio performance – no predetermined compositions, and little precedent that I know of for the three of them working together.
Such contexts allow Daisy to shine; they stoke his fertile imagination and exploit his ability to react, alertly but with composure, to the unexpected. This trio follows a solo set by Vandermark at 10. (Don’t miss this: I don’t think I’m synesthetic, but I’ll swear I’ve seen Vandermark throw off sparks when he plays unaccompanied.)
Although he’s best known these days for his contributions to a little band with a big name (Moppa Elliot’s Mostly Other People Do The Killing), Evans himself is no stranger to unaccompanied improvising. Like Vandermark, he has often performed and recorded in this format, where he excels through a balance of lyrical melody and sometimes ear-defying extended technique, producing sounds supposedly beyond the ken of his instrument. This set promises to place Daisy in the unique position of knitting together the work of two artists neither of whom needs anyone else at all on stage.
Daisy cuts to the other extreme on Thursday, when his trio Vox Arcana plays two sets at Elastic Arts (2830 N. Milwaukee) starting at 10. In Vox Arcana, Daisy (on marimba as well as drums) showcases his own compositions, most designed to elegantly distill a particular concept and explore specific improvisational devices. That’s the blueprint; once realized, these plans take flight into music as airy as it is rigorous.
Vox Arcana comprises clarinetist James Falzone – the leader of KLANG, which features Daisy on drums (and whose album Other Doors was among my Top Ten picks of 2011) – and Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello and electronics. Both tread comfortably in the DMZ between improvised music and written composition. That makes them ideal partners for Daisy in this venture, which emphasizes control and command to channel the soloing.
This wonderful trio’s 2010 debut album was a knockout, but they’ve been on the back burner of Daisy’s busy schedule over the last six months. With a new disc and a tour promised for the fall, Daisy is poised to once again bring Vox Arcana front and center. It helps complete the picture of an especially well-rounded artist – an inviting triptych on display tonight through Thursday.