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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Ballister – Bastard String (Self-released, 2010) ***½

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Let’s hope that those who were at the Hideout in Chicago on June 16th of last year have sufficiently recovered in the meantime, because based on this live recording, they must at least have had their eyebrows scorched off. Ballister is a trio featuring Dave Rempis (reeds), Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello, electronics) and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums). A line-up that has the potential of setting the place on fire, which is exactly what they do on ‘Bastard String’. With a title like that, what else did you expect?

You get more than enough proof of Rempis’ explosive prowess on the alto, tenor and baritone saxophone. While he’s mainly known because of his alto playing in the Vandermark 5 and his own Percussion Quartet, he’s definitely as proficient on the other two (as evidenced on his strong duo album with Frank Rosaly as well), switching from his trademark searing notes on alto to low growls and vein-popping intensity. With Nilssen-Love, one of the most ferocious percussionists around, he succeeds in laying down this forward thrust (I’d call it a groove if it weren’t so goddamn violent half the time) that feels like sheer excitement.

“Belt And Claw” starts with a snare beat and then the trio comes crashing out of the gate like a pack of wolves on the loose. It takes them about a minute to reach the boiling point and they keep this going for quite a while. Especially interesting is Lonberg-Holm’s diverse and fierce attack. He was already more prominent on the last Vandermark 5-release, but on this one he’s even more aggressive, pushing the distortion into pure, white-hot noise. The track of course has its quieter moments, with more introspective hints and jabs, but the feeling that will stick with you is that of undiluted fierceness.

The title track is, perhaps surprisingly, the least energetic, and a more open piece, with conventionally bowed cello and subtle percussion by Nilssen-Love. It was nothing more than a break though, as it’s followed by ‘Cocking Lugs’, another half hour muscle-flexing workout. The track starts with a long soundtrack-like introduction by Lonberg-Holm, soon joined by a sleekly contributing Rempis, who helps him pave the way for another sparring session featuring the drummer’s maniacal rumbling.

An awkward moment occurs when Lonberg-Holm’s creaking manipulations slowly dissolve into silence (around the 24-minute mark) after which it remains completely silent for half a minute. But then Nilssen-Love reappears, is joined by Rempis on burly baritone and the trio head for another torrid climax. ‘Bastard String’ may not be the subtlest of records, but as for excitement, stuff like this is hard to beat. At more than seventy minutes, it’s quite a challenge, and it has a few moments where the listener’s attention might get lost (this being your couch or comfortable chair and not a sweaty club), but in the end, it’ll have you panting as if you’ve just knocked down Mike Tyson yourself, and that can only be a good thing. Right?

‘Bastard String’ appeared in a limited edition of 300 copies and can be ordered directly from Dave Rempis.