Ballister – The Ballister Monologues (Astral Spirits Records, 2014) ****½
I could have used the same introduction for today’s review as yesterday, which is no surprise since The Ballister Monologues presents Ballister on their last gig of the same spring US tour 2014 as Worse for the Wear – but now playing for a roughed up and good-humored audience in Austin, Texas.
There is still the same energy and this recording is even harder and rougher than Worse for the Wear because Rempis’s and Nilssen-Love’s approaches are more clearly contrasted by Lonberg-Holm’s electrified cello debris, which makes the already powerful listening experience even more intense. Their sound is still brutal and physical, yet there is a new element added to their music – and this element is the groove. Ballister intersperse driving rhythms like prominent hardcore techno beats (on the bass drum) and monotonous claves (in “The Woman Who Loved To Make Ballister Happy”) with noisy textures and sporadic melodic interjections as in “My Angry Ballister” when Rempis’s minimal circular breathing meets Nilssen-Love’s dark tumescent drums while Lonberg-Holm, who is on guitar here, sounds like a Jimi Hendrix gone crazy in the further course of the track. The musicians are at their best when Nilssen-Love adds rock grooves (apart from the great free jazz drummers he also loves John Bonham, he once told me) and fierce drum’n’bass passages to the already hellish bitches brew (“The Woman Who Loved To Make Ballister Happy” after 12:19 minutes is my favorite moment on the album).
However, it is no surprise that they can get lost in grooves since Rempis said in an interview that he loved playing time, whether it was something that was really swinging or an odd-meter feel. He also pointed out that he got comfortable with the fact that it was just something he gravitated towards and enjoyed more and more after a certain period when he was more interested in European improvised music. For him both styles are important possibilities “within the larger context of being an improviser that carry equal weight as musical tools”.
The Ballister Monologues shows Rempis’s influences – like Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time and Chicago improvisers like Fred Anderson. It’s a superb piece of music!
The Ballister Monologues is available in an edition of 150 cassettes and as a digital download. You can buy it from the label.
Listen to “The Woman Who Loved To Make Ballister Happy” here: