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Friday, April 22, 2022

Ballister & Ken Vandermark/Nate Wooley/Paul Lytton at the Cleveland Bop Stop 4/19/2022

Nate Wooley. Photo by Don Sebian

By Stephen Griffith

Throughout this pandemic and the official reaction to it, it's been a bad time to see live music. Navigating shifting requirements of proof of vaccinations and masking requirements yielded a blanket “no thanks” from me. So its been a barren two years of concerts for me.

A local college radio disc jockey sends out a weekly “Jazz Calendar” listing upcoming performances at clubs and concert halls, including events months in the future. He has been doing this for decades so the last two years has produced mostly eye rolling on receipt of updates. Imagine my surprise a couple weeks ago to see a twin bill at the Bop Stop of Ballister and Ken Vandermark/Nate Wooley/Paul Lytton for Tuesday April 19. No masks or proof of vaccination were required so I grabbed tickets immediately.

Paul Lytton and Ken Vandermark. Photo by Don Sebian

Driving there last night I didn't know what to expect. These concerts attract a varying number of aficionados during the best of times so I was unsure what to expect but on arrival the place was pleasantly full of familiar faces. The organization booking the concert, New Ghosts, dedicated to preserving the memory and spirit of Albert Ayler, was relieved to be able to return to doing what they do. In some ways this was an ideal booking to get things started again. Cleveland has been a longtime waystop of Chicagoan Vandermark for his midwestern tours. Dave Rempis became part of the Vandermark orbit through the Vandermark 5 before making appearances with Triage, duets with Tim Daisy and currently Ballister. Likewise fellow Chicagoan Fred Lonborg-Holm. Norwegian Frode Gjerstad has made Cleveland a frequent stop on his US tours along with his younger drummer, Paal Nilssen-Love, who has also teamed up with Vandermark in addition to The Thing and Large Unit. Nate Wooley played at least one duet gig with Vandermark. Paul Lytton played a one off date in 2007 or 2008 with Vandermark and Phillip Wachsmann as a followup to Cinc, a limited release on Okkadisc; everyone in attendance was fascinated by his technique and had hopes for his return before now.

The program began with the Vandermark/Wooley/Lytton group. Fortunately the acoustics of the club allow for very soft playing to be easily heard because there were a lot of quietly percussive tongue slaps on tenor sax and clarinet, and breathy brass sounds along with unusual objects used for percussion. At times it was hard to figure out what instruments were contributing which sounds to a collective drone effect. There were also more uptempo numbers in which Vandermark let loose with emphatic tenor sax yawps, in case anyone was misled into thinking it was overly ethereal and subdued. Nate Wooley also used a flexible metallic rectangular sheet and mutes effectively as sound modifiers. A very satisfying set of music. This was the only stop on the current Ballister tour featuring this group.

Dave Rempis, Paal Nilssen-Love, and Fred Lonborg-Holm. Photo by Don Sebian 

The release of this might have been the motivating force behind the timing of the tour. As mentioned in the review, Ballister’s approach is much more physical and visceral and this date was no exception. Starting with PNL’s first snare shot the audience was on notice that this would be a rolling and tumbling adventure with Lonberg-Holm’s cello pickups injecting discordant noise into the mix. Rempis was masterful on tenor, baritone and alto saxes, combining a sweet melodicism with a relentlessly probing forward momentum.

From all available evidence the return to live free jazz in Cleveland was an overwhelming success.


Anonymous said...


Martin Schray said...

Cleveland Rocks (again) - to quote Ian Hunter. I wish I could've been there.

Paul said...

I'm happy to read that at least you didn't go to shows that did require masks and wear it around your chin. I actually left a show that I was really looking forward to because how people were acting.