Since The Thing's breakup three years ago, I’ve been constantly looking for a project that is able to combine this irresistible mélange of energy, free jazz, blues, rock and madness. So I took on Peter Brötzmann’s Full Blast (great guys, no question), Colin Stetson’s Ex Eye (maybe a little too much Black Sabbath), Mats Gustafsson's other trio project Fire! (stunning, but sometimes with a rather prog-rocky inclination) and Gorilla Mask (an outlier among these top dogs), but in the end I always keep ending up with Ballister.
Dave Rempis on saxophones, Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello and electronics and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums (the living connection to The Thing) have always been something like the The Thing’s evil twin (although the original is already evil) - dirtier, less accessible, rougher. My favorite albums Worse for the Wear, Slag and Low Level Stink all work on a similar principle: there’s no time to settle in, it’s like being in a boxing match with Muhammad Ali in the best years of his career. You immediately get a straight right to the face, followed by a hail of body shots before a left hook knocks you out. And then they do it again and again, usually for the full distance - in this case, about 50 minutes. And Chryspoeia is no exception.
The album starts stumbling and stuttering with “Strapling“, the first of two tracks. But it takes just 30 seconds until the musicians are at top speed. Nilssen-Love, as always, whips relentlessly forward, Lonberg-Holm supports the wild chase with both harsh and brutal plucking and with angular strokes, while Rempis roars ahead of them, his staccato lines hitting unpredictable hooks - everything is performed with a velocity that is heard to bear. In the first five minutes, “Strapling“ accelerates so mercilessly that you feel as if you were sitting in an open carrier rocket, and then you’re catapulted into the open sky, sailing weightlessly along. This can be witnessed best when cello and drums stop abruptly and Rempis is out in the open on his own (a stylistically device Han Bennink liked to use in the famous Brötzmann Trio with Fred Van Hove).
However, with the second track “Muffit“ they prove that they are more than a band that can only deliver the obvious. As in their previous releases, they stick to an established scheme here, a strict three-part division: the first part comes across as a real killer (“Strapling“), the second one is more introspective (usually the nod to new classical music), the last one combines speedcore jazz and sound exploration. “Muffit“ begins with this ruminant passage before it rides on jungle rhythms and presents a rarely shown dark side of the band.
All in all, Chrysopoeia is an excellent album that shows a slightly different face of the trio. In their most wonderful moments Ballister combine Ken Vandermark’s idea of funkiness, heavy metal, free jazz and avant-gard music. To be honest, as long as they are on the scene, the absence of The Thing doesn’t hurt so much. I hope they will also last 20 years.
Chrysopoeia is available as a CD and a download.
You can listen to the first track here: