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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Ballister - Both Ends (Bocian Records, 2014) ****½

By Janus and Karl

 Every once in a while we meet in order to have some fun, listen to music, grab some beers (this really depends on your notion of the word “some”) and go to a concert. We don’t do this just for fun, it’s part of a bigger self-conducted and financed project called “Don’t ask what free jazz can do for you, but what you can do for free jazz”©™. In any case, in February 2012 we met at the Austrian-Italian border, Janus was driving our jazz mobile (a light violet 1974 Ford Capri, you remember) and we were heading east. Because each of us had got up early before met, we decided to take a quick nap in the car before we went on. Then we took the road again and after two hours we entered some thick fog, you could hardly see further than 50 meters.

Then we saw a traffic sign which said: Warszawa 50 km. “Warsaw?” Karl asked. “This is not possible. We must be somewhere in Austria. Warsaw is 1000 miles northeast.” We stopped at the next gas station. The cars there had Polish license plates, the people spoke Polish, even the newspapers were Polish. We then realized that also the two of us were speaking in Polish. Even if we kept on thinking in our respective mother tongue, and this might be the cause of our following confused memories. Janus looked at the headline of one and said: “Karl, unbelievable, Ballister are playing at the Powiekszenie club.” The man at the cashier said: “We have been waiting for them for such a long time. You must go there, the club is just 10 miles away. It’s easy to find.”

 The club was really close, we parked our car and joined the queue. The people looked strange, most of them were very pale, like zombies. Many wore T-shirts of the Bocian label or T-shirts with skulls and gore motifs. “I don’t know, Karl. Is this real?” Janus asked. “This is Kafka, Janus”, Karl replied. “Like in “Metamorphosis”. Janus tried not to give too much importance to the man in the armor sitting in a dark corner of the club holding a halberd. The club itself was rather fashionable, but dimly lit, the atmosphere was creepy, yet we did not feel uncomfortable.

We sat at a table close to the stage and soon after we had taken our seats the band entered the stage, Dave Rempis carrying a supersized bottle of Vodka which was already half empty. Rempis (alto and tenor saxophone), Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello and electronics) and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums and percussions) looked horrible, their faces like empty canvases, their eyes hollowed, although it was not rather cold in the club they were sweating. Nevertheless they played a marvelous first set, just to drink more vodka in the break. Then, at the end of the second set, Lonberg-Holm stood up, twirled his cello around, and began to howl like a thirsty, wounded wolf along with Rempis’ sax lines. Additionally, he started a weird dance, as if he was in trance.

Soon after that the band finished the set and left for the dressing room - nobody has seen them again that night. “What the hell was that?” Janus asked. “I have seen them before, but nothing compares to this. As if hellhounds were following them, they played as if there was no tomorrow. It was like a rollercoaster ride, absolutely physical. I have never heard Paal playing such rock grooves, and I have never heard Dave bursting out the blues like that. He must be in real pain. Did you see how much they drank? And what did Fred do? As if he envisioned the apocalypse but instead of trying to hide he went into it head first. Hardly ever have I seen such an energetic gig”, said Karl. “Absolutely no rest in this performance” nodded Janus. “From the very beginning, with the bright and lone bass drum hit of Nilssen-Love, you’re swallowed by the tension and the vigor emanated by this trio. It doesn’t matter if they’re in a frantic crescendo or in a slower passage, they are just always uncovered and coarse, pure and immediate. What surprises me the most is the fluency of Longberg-Holm going through genres and approaches with no fraction or less authenticity, switching from guitar-like distorted waves of background noise to gipsy references up to clean coherent pizzicato phrasings, melting everything with a wise amount of electronics. Nilssen-Love is at his best, martial and energetic, plangent and connective. What Rempis can do with such a structure and stimulus is to totally enjoy every moment of the interplay. And this is what you really can feel from this session. He teases the crazy cello bowing or rushes while skins and plates chase him. There is a lot of joy here around, maybe some alcohol too, but more than everything it’s great music!” When we left the club we went to our car to get some sleep in a nearby hotel.

When we woke up, we were in our car again. “Where are we?” Karl asked. “What the hell!” said Janus, “we’re still trapped in the Free Jazz Blog …”.

Annotations: The episode with the vodka is true, if you want to know which events have led to that, you have to check out the liner notes. “Both Ends” is available as a limited vinyl edition of 400 (100 on yellow vinyl) and on CD. It’s important to underline how, in our humble opinion, Bocian is doubtless increasing the quality of recording and mastering of live acts as this one.

Available from Instantjazz.


Richard said...

Hi Janus and Karl,

If you see these three again, could you ask them about their obsession with wrestler's butts? This is the second album cover in a row in which they figure prominently.

And thanks for the fun review. I'm sure this album is fantastic.

Anonymous said...

Glad to see the fantastic twins are back! I enjoy your stuff, it is nice to have something different from time to time. I already got the Ballister album, I agree with you, it is superb.
Hope we don't have to wait so long for another adventure of Janus and Karl.