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Sketch Master

Gerry Rempel
Gerry Rempel

Audiences perhaps best know Eugene musician and guitarist Gerry Rempel as resident composer with local ballet company, Ballet Fantastique. Now Rempel, along with his group Gerry Rempel Jazz Syndicate, is celebrating his third release: Sketches from the Underground, a collection of all-original jazz compositions. 

Rempel tells EW the album, recorded in Eugene at Pro-Arts Studio, explores fusions between jazz, world music and even rock. “Drawing from the huge array of global music at our disposal,” Rempel explains, “Latin, Middle Eastern, Indian.” These intersections have interested Rempel since his time as a graduate student at the University of Oregon. 

For example, Sketches track “Priestess” plays around with Middle Eastern scales over tom-tom playing that recalls jazz classics like “Sing, Sing, Sing” or “Night in Tunisia.” Rempel says blues and soul informs most of his work, but also metal, as can be heard in Rempel’s aggressive playing on the muscular, almost arena-ready album track “The Rabble.”  

Along with a cast of quality local musicians, Bruce Cole and Brian West provide the drums and percussion, and Scott Mitchell’s self-assured alto sax work is a highlight. 

Overall, Sketches draws inspiration from classic jazz and Herbie Hancock-style innovators, but also from the prog rock era, when bands like Yes and King Crimson brought jazz elements into rock’s rulebook. But jazz’s spirit of improvisation is what Rempel loves most. “What I love about jazz is the freedom. It’s never the same,” he explains. “To me that’s everything. It has its melody and harmonic structures, then usually in all the tunes there’s going to be room for improvisation. There’s that melodic freedom.”

Gerry Rempel Jazz Syndicate plays April 8 at The Jazz Station in downtown Eugene, and you can find the new CD at gerryrempel.com.