Ballister – Mechanisms (CF 245)
Terrie Ex/Paal Nilssen-Love – Hurgu! (PNL)
Slugfield – Slime Zone (PNL)
Drummer Paal Nilssen-Love has been exceptionally prolific in the last 12 years, appearing on numerous releases each year and traveling constantly throughout the world. First gaining international attention as a member of The Thing, Nilssen-Love has built lasting associations with such ubiquitous improvisers as Mats Gustafsson, Peter Brötzmann, Otomo Yoshihide and Americans Ken Vandermark and Joe McPhee. Nilssen-Love is in possession of prodigious technical skill, but what distinguishes his work is the constant ebb and flow between subtlety and extreme intensity. He manages to function like the drummer in a group while essentially operating more like a sound generator. Three releases find him in different contexts, each reflecting his distinctive musical personality.
The standout from this batch is Mechanisms, the debut from a collective trio with two of Chicago’s most noteworthy improvisers – saxophonist Dave Rempis and cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm. The three extended improvisations find the former switching between alto, tenor and bari, with the latter incorporating his distinctive use of electronics. The extended structures provide ample opportunity to explore myriad sound worlds, to build intensity slowly, with purpose and intent. Lonberg-Holm manages to incorporate electronics in a way that transforms his instrument to the point of being completely unrecognizable as a cello- though still managing to sound like the same player he is with his colorful acoustic playing; the play between the two approaches is quite flexible and his fluency with both is inspiring. Rempis is a forceful player whose long phrases can generate dynamic contours out of minute shifts in the timbre of his instrument. So often Rempis and Lonberg-Holm create a profound sonic tandem, with Nilssen-Love approaching the drums not so much as a large instrument, but a handful of extremely varied sounds that can each be explored, separately or together.
Nilssen-Love and Dutch rock band The Ex have a long history and on Hurgu! he is joined by guitarist Terrie Ex in a set of arresting duets. The proceedings remain at a high level of intensity throughout, this being more of a brazen romp than the extended ruminations of Ballister. The textural palette is more consistent throughout and as such the general architecture relies more on the interplay between the two musicians. The emphasis here is on sustaining a level of intensity over a long period of time and the effect is more trancelike. Quiet moments like the opening of “Bedele” offer some of the most unexpected twists in the duo’s interplay while still ultimately delivering the goods with some intense blasts of sound.
Slime Zone by the collective trio Slugfield highlights the growing relationship between free jazz, noise music and so-called ‘non-idiomatic improvisation’. With Lasse Marhaug (electronics and turntable) and Maja S.K. Ratkje (vocals and electronics), this record is an amazing museum of unlikely sounds, at times recognizable or completely alien. Here Nilssen-Love’s approach to his instrument(s) is particularly focused on the collection of sounds each object is capable of producing. The line between rhythm and texture is all but non existent, assounds and gestures blend together or cohabitate in ways that constantly confound listeners’ expectations. The tracks here are generally shorter, with the opening cut “Get Out the Traps” being just under three minutes and most of the rest around ten minutes or shorter. This is noteworthy in that it reflects a much more abstract trajectory than Ballister’s collaborative development of structure or the punishing relentlessness of the duo with Terrie Ex. Bizarre soundscreep in and mutate – fitting that the artwork focuses on a sea of green slime and a parade of goopy slugs, as this is how the music often moves along. There is a joyfulness that calls to mind a child’s fascination with gross things; these sounds tend to suggest an affinity for tactile stimuli and sense that the best place to lookfor something pleasant is in very unsavory places. “Bring ‘Em On” is the outlier, extending well past the 20-minute mark and here the structure has more incommon with Ballister – despite the remarkable contrast between Ballister’s jazz-inflected phrasing sand Slugfield’s sheer noise factor. Taken as a whole these three records offer very different looks at the possibilities of Paal Nilssen-Love’s sound world and each view is vibrant and deeply compelling.