Tag Archives: Ballister

Gapplegate Music review by Grego Edwards

Ballister is the confluence of Chicago alto-tenor-baritonist Dave Rempis and the Europeans Fred Lonberg-Holm and Paal Nilssen-Love, the former on cello and electronics and the latter of course on drums.

Mechanisms (Clean Feed 245) puts the three together live at the Hideout, Chicago, in late 2010.

Fred Lonberg-Holm’s cello in place of the expected double bass lightens up the texture of the music and gives more general frequency presence to what Fred is doing.

It’s a three-way freeway with three lengthy group-conceived extemporaneous workouts presented.

The group builds up energy that explodes in alto-cello-drums mayhem for the opening “Release Levers.” “Claplock” tones it down and gives some space for Rempis’s inspired saxophony, a phraser of stature, sound color master, post-Ayler, post-AACM wizard. Nilssen-Love reminds us why he is one of Europe’s premier free-drummers while Lonberg-Holm gets some interesting lines going in his own right. Rempis returns for some lucid wailing. He doesn’t always go where you expect and where he goes is something to hear. They get into another froth and Dave is in fine fettle. The final “Roller Nuts” kicks it up a couple notches with blow-out extroversions that will wake anybody up who has ears.

There is some very fine free sax trio music to be heard on Mechanisms. It says much about what sort of connection the three made that day–a synchronicity of a definite high order.

Free Jazz review by Philip Coombs

Ballister -Mechanisms (CF 245)
Two weeks ago I was rushed to our onsite medical facility with an extremely elevated heart rate. The attending nurse asked some of the expected questions; ‘Are you taking any different medications?’, and, ‘Are you under any unusual stress?’ She strapped me to an ECG machine and and it read 174 bbm. Then it occurred to me. I was listening to the latest Ballister release ‘Mechanisms’ on the way in on the bus. I explained this to her. She decided to call an ambulance immediately.

This is Ballister. Handle with care. Named after the origins of the crossbow, Paal Nilssen-Love (Drums), Fred Lonberg-Holm (Cello, Electronics), and Dave Rempis (Saxophones), collectively pull back the arrow with all their might and pull the trigger with no regard for innocent bystanders.

Recorded live during the last show of their first tour, track one, Release Levers, is a track full of ideas. It is a vital core concept of an album like this that either makes it work or it fails miserably. Without a constant influx of these new fresh ideas, it could become very boring quickly.

Nilssen-Love is all over his drum kit on this one. He starts with brushes, then turns to bells and cymbals and eventually getting to his sticks to end with a pounding rock beat that proves once again that a drummer of his originality and prolific output can only be compared to himself. This recording may in fact be one of his best or at least one of his most concise. Rempis is right there with him in terms of ideas, concepts and density, and certainly deserving of more respect as a purveyor of improv. Lonberg-Holm is the glue that keeps them together adding his cello in some very unique ways. Somehow the three of them never seem to repeat themselves.

Track two, Claplock, is in itself a rare thing of beauty. It completely transcends three guys improvising on stage. This track sounds like a direct result of three musicians, beaming with mutual respect at the end of a tour after driving long hours, eating together, talking about music and scrolling through each others MP3 players late at night. It is the culmination of each player’s history and vision wrapped up in 17 minutes.

The final mechanism of the crossbow, Roller Nuts, sees everyone out of the gate at the same time. Okay, check pulse. Relatively normal, good. All three musicians are giving it everything they have left. It is their swan song as it were, their last time to play together. This is no theoretical improv moment, this is the real deal, combining years of playing and even more years of listening. Either of them can simply hint at a structural or rhythmical change and the other two dive right in. You can feel the energy from the room and no moment is left to waste. Lonberg-Holm’s cello processing and electronics are at their most prevalent on this track and there are points where you can almost hear Rempis’ saxophone crying out for a break before it explodes.

This is why my cardiologist and I give it 4½ stars.

All About Jazz review by Glenn Astarita

Ballister – Mechanisms (CF 245)
The patrons for this live date must have been sitting on the edge of their seats throughout this exhilarating performance captured at a Chicago venue. With eminent proponents of the Chicago free-jazz sector wreaking havoc and Scandinavian drumming hero Paal Nilssen-Love adding his perennial doses of pop and sizzle, the trio’s brazen and unrelenting attack often exceeds anticipated avant-garde paradigms. Containing three extended workouts, the band pushes the proverbial envelope to interstellar proportions.

The nineteen-minute opener, “Release Levers,” is a nonstop slugfest, based on torrid undercurrents. But the trio tempers the flow prior to the bridge via microtonal dialogues and textures, then jumps into a reconstruction process while ascending back to the broad temporal plane, accelerated by reed man Dave Rempis’ vociferous plaintive cries and rifling notes. Interspersed with subplots, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm handles the bass parts and electronics treatments amid his fervent staccato lines.

Besides its unbridled intensity, Ballister seems possessed by positive spirits while gelling to the live element via an emotive, fluid, and overpowering set of protocols, offering thrills-a-nanosecond.

The New York City Jazz Record review by Wilbur MacKenzie

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.

All About Jazz review by Mark Corroto

Ballister Trio – Mechanisms (CF 245)
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A free improvising trio walks into a club and begins a live performance by ripping the ears off its listeners. No joke here, just that flexing muscular music isn’t for the faint-at-heart. And certainly the trio of saxophonist Dave Rempis, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love is an audacious one.

Mechanisms is their second recording. Their first, Bastard String was self-produced in 2010 and, like this disc, recorded live. It is difficult to imagine this trio recording in a studio, rerecording or editing its music. The trio plays live, raw, and uninhibited.

The players are quite familiar and longtime collaborators in bands such as reed multi-instrumentalist Ken Vandermark’s Territory Band. Rempis and Nilsson-Love can also be heard in School Days, and the Chicago saxophonist and cellist both play in Vandermark 5 and various local ensembles.

The three lengthy pieces heard here wander from quietude to noise. Each piece releases a cathartic rush of energy. Although the players forage and rummage about, it is not aimless; they are planning a course. “Claprock” opens with Nilssen-Love digging a foundation with his tom-toms as Rempis finds an intemperate balance on tenor. The pause for cymbal work and thundering bass drum is a prelude to the adrenaline rush to come. Lonberg-Holm’s cello can pluck single notes or, via electronics, singe with a current that begs the question, is that a guitar?

Ballister Trio might start with the question Peter Brötzmann’s Machine Gun (FMP, 1968) raised: what do we do with all this energy? Rage, yes; but there is more. Rempis, trading between various saxophones, plays until exhaustion, his ferocity incomparable. The trio burns, but not for the sake of combustion. In between the uproar is the meat, the viscera, and the heart of sound. This trio finds beauty in the maelstrom.

Le Son du Grisli review by Guillaume Belhomme

Ballister – Mechanisms (CF 245)
En concert à Chicago, Dave Rempis (saxophones ténor et baryton), Fred Lonberg-Holm (violoncelle, electronics) et Paal Nilssen-Love (batterie) improvisèrent trois titres : consignés en Mechanisms, ils sonnent le retour de Ballister.

Rempis sait qu’il existe deux façons d’allumer un feu : la percussion ou la friction. Ainsi confie-t-il la première à Nilssen-Love, la seconde à Lonberg-Holm, pour s’occuper du reste en toute liberté. Par le reste, entendre l’entretien de la flamme : par spirales tracées au ténor qui remplissent l’espace d’un souffle neuf, motifs dont l’intensité est revendiquée par chacune des notes qui les composent, répétitions qui insistent jusqu’au dérapage qui grippera la machine, sifflements qu’avalent parfois l’électronique de Lonberg-Holm, salves crachées qui ont valeur de phrases définitives…

Eprouvant avec une ingéniosité rare la force d’invention et la résistance de Rempis, Lonberg-Holm et Nilssen-Love la subliment. Au point que le second enregistrement de Ballister est une référence aussi indispensable à la courte discographie du groupe qu’à celles, plus impressionnantes, de chacun de ses trois membres.

Music and More review by Tim Niland

Ballister – Mechanisms (CF245)
Ballister is a very exciting collective trio consisting of Dave Rempis on saxophones, Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums. With the ever present Nilssen-Love joining a couple of stalwarts of the vibrant Chicago jazz scene, the results are bound to be exciting and occasionally thrilling and the music certainly lives up to that expectation. There are three lengthy performances, and listening to Mechanisms is a very exciting proposition, with three amazing free jazz blowouts culminating in the half-hour long concluding performance “Roller Nuts.” The preceding two passages, “Release Levers” and “Claplock” set the stage, with the former being a strong uptempo improvisation, while the latter begins in a much moodier nature before building to an explosive climax. These two tracks alone are thrilling music, but “Roller Nuts” by Ballister is a free jazz epic that is just blew my mind. Explosive trio work that doesn’t let up for a second of its nearly half-hour time. I think that comparisons to John Coltrane’s Ascension and Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz are appropriate, while the trio is much smaller than those large group improvisations, the group packs a tremendous amount of energy and sustains it with remarkable drive and passion.

Chicago Reader review by Peter Margasak

Ballister – Mechanisms (CF 245)
On the second Ballister album, Mechanisms (Clean Feed), this scorching local free-jazz trio occasionally indulges in a moment of repose, with saxophonist Dave Rempis shaping muted striations, drummer Paal Nilssen-Love gently scraping his cymbals, and cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm bowing almost serene long tones. But make no mistake: though the the three of them have been working together as Ballister for a couple of years, they don’t seem to be getting tired of going all-out pretty much all the time. The second half of the new album is a 28-minute workout called “Roller Nuts”—most of the group’s titles have a blunt crudity that harks back to early Peter Brötzmann records like Balls and Nipples, just as the energy level of the music does—and it makes me feel like a building is collapsing on me. The members of Ballister have much more to offer than furious freak-outs, though. In each piece they constantly shift gears, changing texture (particularly Lonberg-Holm, who plays his effects pedals as much as his cello), rhythmic feel, and density, which requires them to stay attuned to one another and adjust on the fly—and it’s hard to miss the the exuberant snatches of buoyant, hard-swinging jazz that pop out of the din. Naysayers might say that Ballister—like free jazz in general—is just squawking and noise, but that’s what most unfamiliar music sounds like if you refuse to really listen to it.

El Intruso reviews by Sergio Piccirilli

Clean Feed x 3: RED Trio + Nate Wooley / Elliott Sharp / Ballister
El sello portugués Clean Feed Records, en sus diez años de existencia y con más de doscientos títulos incorporados a su catálogo, se ha constituido en una de las casas discográficas de mayor importancia en el ámbito del jazz de vanguardia y la música creativa del nuevo milenio. Su riguroso compromiso con la innovación, lo persistente de su producción y la amplitud del rango artístico que congrega han sido ampliamente reconocidos tanto por el público ávido por explorar nuevas fronteras musicales como por la prensa especializada. De hecho, corresponde recordar que Clean Feed resultó el sello más votado por la prensa internacional en las ediciones 2008, 2009, 2010 y 2011 de nuestra encuesta anual. A continuación mencionaremos algunos de los títulos recientemente editados por el sello dirigido por los hermanos Costa:

El primero de los álbumes en cuestión lleva por título Stem y reúne a la notable banda portuguesa RED Trio con el prestigioso trompetista estadounidense Nate Wooley. RED Trio (integrado por Gabriel Ferrandini en batería, Hernani Faustino en contrabajo y Rodrigo Pinheiro en piano) desde su elogiado debut discográfico en 2010 con RED Trio acaparó la atención del público más exigente y demostró infrecuentes cualidades musicales. Más tarde ratificaron virtudes con Empire de 2011, álbum en donde se asociaron con el destacado saxofonista e improvisador británico John Butcher. Ahora, en Stem, prolongan ese espíritu colaborativo con epicentro en el concepto de libre improvisación y composición instantánea que caracteriza al trío pero aumentado por la presencia de uno de los trompetistas más brillantes de nuestro tiempo: Nate Wooley (Nate Wooley Quintet, Seven Storey Mountain, Harris Eisenstadt & Canada Day, Peter Evans/ Nate Wooley Duo).

La segunda entrega a la que haremos referencia se titula Aggregat y pertenece al Elliott Sharp Trio, banda cuya alineación integra a su líder en saxo tenor, saxo soprano y guitarra, Ches Smith (Mary Halvorson Quintet, Los Totopos, Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog, etc.) en batería y Brad Jones (The Jazz Passengers, Bobby Previte and the New Bump, Dave Douglas & Keystone, etc.) en bajo. Elliott Sharp, después de haber ocupado un lugar protagónico en la escena del downtown neoyorquino, ha sabido desarrollar y encabezar una seria de proyectos simultáneos que incluyen – entre otros – al Soldier String Quartet, Tectonics, Carbon, Elliott Sharp’s Terraplane y sus innovadoras presentaciones en solo de guitarra. En Aggregat, además de utilizar al saxo como primer instrumento, se orienta en dirección al concepto de trío jazz pero permitiéndose usar su particular vocabulario de improvisación e incorporando algunos guiños de complicidad con la tradición que incluyen, por citar un ejemplo, una pieza en tributo al saxofonista Sonny Rollins.

El último de los lanzamientos de Clean Feed Records a mencionar en esta sección corresponde al trío Ballister y su álbum Mechanisms. Ballister es un proyecto que cuenta con las estelares participaciones de tres de los músicos más destacados de la vanguardia jazzística: el saxofonista Dave Rempis (The Rempis Percussion Quartet, Vandermark 5, The Engines, etc.), el cellista Fred Lonberg-Holm (Vandermark 5, Peter Brötzmann’s Chicago Tentet, Seval, etc.) y el baterista Paal Nilssen-Love (The Thing, Atomic, Territory Band, etc.). En Mechanisms – el segundo álbum del trío tras su debut en 2010 con Bastard String- se funden influencias provenientes de Julius Hemphill, Abdul Wadud, Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time y del Miles Davis de principios de los setenta en comunión con la impronta sonora contemporánea que distingue a la vanguardia de la escena de Chicago.