in performance: ballister

Ballister: Dave Rempis, Paal Nilssen-Love and Fred Lonberg-Holm. Photo by Geert Vandepoele.

The most immediately arresting aspect of the performance earlier tonight by the jazz trio Ballister at the University of Kentucky Niles Gallery was the audience – specifically, the fact there was one on hand that largely filled the room. That’s an accomplishment for the Outside the Spotlight Series this performance was part of. Over the course of an hour, the playing that erupted, subsided, splintered and regenerated was built around free improvisation that took the resulting music light years away from anything that could be considered mainstream. That’s been pretty much standard operating procedure for any OTS show, which perhaps explains why audience turnout is sometimes on the sparse side. But a full room tonight made up predominantly of college-age patrons unquestionably gave the performance’s already abundant sense of immediacy an extra, welcomed jolt.

The concert was divided into two extended improvisations by Dave Rempis (on alto, tenor and baritone saxophones), Paal Nilssen-Love (on drums and percussion) and Fred Lonberg-Holm (on cello, guitar and electronics). The first was a 35 minute romp that began at a full boil and seldom relented. Rempis tore loose on alto while Lonberg-Holm underscored his bowed cello playing with often coarse scratches on the strings. But it was Nilssen-Love who stayed in the driver’s seat, initiating the ensemble drive with a thunderous crack on the kit and then propelling the music through a variety of brutal rumbles and fractured grooves.

The results were wildly engrossing if not earsplitting. The latter was a side effect of the room’s acoustics as Lonberg-Holm was the only one playing with even modest amplification.

A second 25 minute improv splintered the trio into a variety of solo and duo configurations and employed a greater vocabulary of dynamics and space. A baritone sax solo from Rempis, for example, sounded positively hushed compared to the voluminous outbreaks from the first workout. But the others opened up, too. Nilssen-Love created circular grooves with brushes on a snare before producing gong-like effects from a cymbal. Lonberg-Holm used the occasion for a lengthy excursion on guitar that yielded brittle electric runs that bore remarkable tonal similarities to his cello agitations.

In short, it was an evening of discovery. For Ballister, that translated into considerable conversational daring among its players. For the audience, it was the opportunity to experience a sense of jazz exploration that was uncompromising in terms of intensity and ingenuity.

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