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Monday, March 4, 2024

Ballister - Smash and Grab (Aerophonic, 2024)

By Martin Schray

Seven minutes of hellfire. That’s the way Smash and Grab begins, the new, now eleventh album by Ballister, possibly the best band in the world. From the first second Paal Nilssen-Love’s drums pound away mercilessly, Fred Lonberg-Holm beats his cello as if it were a heavy metal guitar and Dave Rempis performs a veritable St. Vitus’ dance on the saxophone, up and down the scales, horizontally, vertically, right up to the pain threshold. There is no escape, you have to go through it. It’s like being thrown overboard a ship to keelhaul. The only difference is that this is not a punishment, but a pure pleasure.

And then - after purgatory - there’s an abrupt stop. As if the engines were switched off, as if everyone was looking around, having no idea what was going on. A drumbeat here and there, the cello scratches and mumbles to itself. The saxophone is completely gone for three minutes, then it trills its way back into the improvisation. It sounds as if the three of them have a hangover after the furious start and are staggering through lonely alleys. Left alone by his rhythm section, Rempis then takes off like a drone, soars into the air and hovers above the clouds - only to ignite the same fire as at the beginning three floors higher. What a monster track! What glorious pleasure! What a heavenly maelstrom! Even though Smash and Grab is divided into three tracks, it’s obviously one set (“Smash“ and “Even More Smashing“) plus an encore (“Grab“). “Even More Smashing“ extends the consistent ups and downs of the first part of the improvisation. Intensity, brutality, intimacy and subtlety alternate absolutely elegantly, the apparent opposites are seamlessly linked. “Grab“ then summarizes the first two pieces in a nutshell.

The album was recorded in December 2022 at the Catalytic Sound Festival in Chicago - and it was the first concert for the band after a six-month break. In April of the same year, they had completed a two-week tour of the USA, their first performances together after an almost three-year break due to the pandemic. And as is often the case, you don’t know what will happen with freely improvised music. It can range from mediocre routine to pure magic. Here it’s definitely the latter.

“On Smash and Grab, a punk aesthetic wraps itself into the mature sensibility of seasoned improvisers to create one of those rare sets that simply unfolds calmly in front of you like an origami flower“, the liner notes claim, and there’s certainly some truth in that.

2023 was a sad year for the free jazz community. Some of the last of the old guard have left the ship - for example Tristan Honsinger, Tony Oxley and Peter Brötzmann. But Fred Lonberg-Holm, Paal Nilsson-Love and Dave Rempis have captured and breathed their souls. There’s no need to worry about the new torchbearers. They know what they’re doing. After Fire!’s Testament, Smash and Grab is the second album released early in the year that is guaranteed to end up in the Top 5.

Smash and Grab is available on vinyl (in a limited edition), as a CD and as a download.

You can listen to it and order it here


Ferruccio said...

Monster review for a monster record. As we can't judge a book by the cover, we can't judge a year by its first 2 months but, so far, 2024 seems really Annus Mirabilis...

Maxime said...

Awesome...Just bought the vinyl (my first of 2024).

Martin Schray said...

For those who are interested: Ballister is on tour in Europe. Here are the dates:

03/04/24 Warsaw, PL Pardon To Tu
03/05/24 Vienna, AU Martinschlossl
03/06/24 Villach, AU Kulturforum Villach
03/07/24 Munich, DE Offene Oehren
03/08/24 St Johan In Tirol, AU ArtActs Festival
03/09/24 Schorndorf, DE Manufaktur
03/10/24 Weikersheim, DE Club W71
03/11/24 Bonn, DE Zentrifuge / Comment Dire Bonn
03/12/24 Berlin, DE Sowieso

Don't miss them, they are a spectacular band.