It began in a state of willful chaos and ended with a beat of golden silence. Everything in between played out last night like a heated family conversation by the free jazz trio Ballister at the University of Kentucky’s John Jacob Niles Center for Traditional Music.
A turbulent ebb and flow fortified the 75 minute set’s three untitled improvisations created by saxophonist Dave Rempis, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love. The first started like a clasp of thunder with the three stepping briskly into a fractured, high volume brawl that placed Rempis’ scorched alto lead at its center. Built around all that was the deconstructed chamber backdrop Lonberg-Holm designed by tapping out notes on the neck of the cello with his left hand while his right simultaneously added more sustained rage with a bow. Subsequent solos would formulate a hint of a sustained melody before Lonberg-Holm let the music mutate with assorted pedal effects.
One had to be a traffic cop to monitor all the changes that followed – like Rempis’ switch to baritone sax and an ensuing, elemental, groove executed on brushes by Nilssen-Love that slowly built itself into a furious boil. Whispery sax/drums dialogue, a percussion solo on cymbals played by mallets, two more sax changes (back to alto and then on to tenor) and a full-tilt trio rampage brought the 35 minute improv to a conclusion that was as unsettled as the opening.
The second improv downshifted the set’s drive, but only slightly. Its introduction returned Nilssen-Love to mallet percussion that faded to a quiet rumble even as bowed cello lines percolated under his playing. Rempis’ baritone sax squall later led into another trio skirmish before a clean swipe on the cello strings by Lonberg-Holm brought the improv to a finish that seemed to surprise and delight his bandmates.
An overall quieter chat dominated the final improv of the evening. A rustle of percussion devices that included a half-empty water bottle and an alto sax solo that beautifully opened into a fully functioning wail highlighted the music’s unusually harmonious flow. Then everything evaporated into a momentary coda of silence that was as breathtaking as all of the fascinating interplay that preceded it.