Ballister – Worse For The Wear (2015)

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The Chicago-based free-electro/acoustic-jazz trio Ballister is such a productive, endlessly creative trio that they’re able to make records of new material every year and up to this point we were only able to catch up with one of those records. For the 5th year running, a new Ballister release is in the offing. They didn’t even need a studio for Worse For The Wear (out January 6, 2015 from Aerophonic Records), which was just a stop on their Spring 2014 tour, but it’s impossible to get that kind of simpatico on stage without having exceptional feel for each other (and being some rather danged good musicians, too).

Saxophonist Dave Rempis, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love make up a summit meeting from the current generation of improvised music warriors, all of which made the grade well before they got together five years ago. But the band really hits its stride on Worse For The Wear, a record of noise, anti-noise and a whole lot of daring. On an album made up of three extended improvs, Rempis, Lonberg-Holm and Nilssen-Love embark on a mission to defy expectations from their respective instruments and from what a tenor/cello/drums trio can do (not that we might know what to expect from this kind of layout in the first place).

“Fornax” is more akin to Black Flag than Albert Ayler, or perhaps what you might get if you mix the two. Lonberg-Holm’s growling electronics suggests a fuzz-amped guitar, and Rempis wails unhinged for the first 8 or 9 minutes before the performance makes a soft landing and some space is finally allowed in. After another bout of tension and release comes the weirdest, scariest fucking noise to come from a cello this side of Tom Cora.

“Scutum” is a showcase for a world-class drummer such as Nilssen-Love, who serves up a funky hi-hat/rim shot rhythm while Lonberg-Holm scrapes his cello like a fiddle on meth. Rempis plays the closest to ‘straight’ here but it only appears that way compared to the other two. Oddly enough, the swing in his alto fits with Nilssen-Love’s runaway beat. Here, too, the band eventually slows things down to regroup and that’s when the effects Lonberg-Holm applies to his cello makes things all gritty, engaging Rempis in a chase for notes and inspiring the drummer to rock hard.

More ornery, alien noises from all instruments occur during “Vulpecula” and later, a circular, tribal rhythm emerges below the collective drone of creaky, scraped strings and the deep moan of a baritone sax.

Completely unpredictable and ultimately satisfying, Ballister’s Worse For The Wear proves that Chicago-style free jazz remains cutting-edge and uncompromising.

*** Purchase: Ballister – Worse For The Wear ***

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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