Ballister: Znachki Stilyag

John Sharpe BY

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Ballister: Znachki Stilyag
Although the title, composed of two unrelated Russian words chosen because they sounded good, doesn't have a meaning, the contents not only sound good but carry rather more weight. The high intensity free jazz trio Ballister comprises reedman Dave Rempis, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, three of the finest proponents on their instruments in this particular ballpark. For its ninth release the band selects three dynamite cuts, coming in at just under an hour, from a live date in Moscow recorded during a October 2019 European tour.

Rempis is one of the most fluent of saxophonists, who unspools reel after reel of relentlessly argued creativity. He's matched for energy by Nilssen-Love, a veritable powerhouse with an armory of rhythmic options and the wit to deploy them with devastating effectiveness. Meanwhile Lonberg-Holm uses an array of effects to extend an already formidable technique which can stretch from classical poise to fidgety scratching to rock god shredding. Their interaction could be said to be conversational, if that conversation was taking place between three passionate, voluble and inspired mavens.

While they major on their expected strong suit of foot-to-the-floor fire music, they sustain interest over the long haul through interspersing numerous strikingly original formative gambits within the collectively navigated onslaught. One of the most striking arrives right at the start of the 38-minute "Fuck The Money Changers," when an abrupt staccato exchange between Rempis' alto and Nilssen-Love's drums gives way to an astonishing prolonged saxophone whistle. Yet another comes near the end, when overlapping reflective tenor and mournful echoed cello sweeps intermingle over Nilssen-Love's processional throb.

Where they are heading is clear, but not the circuitous and serendipitous route that they'll take to get there. They move from one episode to the next by unexpected and satisfying means, evidenced by the near alchemical transformation from squalling circular breathed saxophone to full on driving skronk. Even the restrained moments seem tightly coiled, pregnant with potential for explosive mayhem. After the 38-minute tour de force of the opener, what follows seems destined to be an anticlimax.

But not so. While neither wields quite the same heft, the two shorter tracks which complete the disc nonetheless form fascinating miniatures (although that's relative given that at nine and eight minutes respectively, they might constitute the longest pieces on many albums). The journey on "Hotel Mary Poppins" from saxophone mutters and cello scrunches to wailing tumult being especially enthralling, while "Old Worms" begins at the summit and stays there in paroxysms of ferocious pummeling, altissimo squeals and sawing abrasion.

Whatever the duration, Ballister serves up superior fare.

Track Listing

Fuck The Money Changers; Hotel Mary Poppins; Old Worms.


Dave Rempis: saxophone; Fred Lonberg-Holm: cello; Paal Nilssen-Love: drums.

Album information

Title: Znachki Stilyag | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Aerophonic Records

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