The transatlantic free improvising trio Ballister – Chicagoan sax hero Dave Rempis, former Chicagoan hyper-cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm and Norwegian drum viking Paal Nilssen-Love – deliver stimulating, ecstatic and life-affirming music that gets better with time, especially after ten albums and when the trio is about to celebrate its 15th anniversary. The aptly titled Smash And Grab, recorded at the Elastic Arts during the Catalytic Sound Festival in Chicago in December 2022, delivers what its title promises and even more. The album is released on a limited edition of hot pink vinyl and a download option.
There are, obviously, tons of abandonless, punk-ish energy, a sense of adventure and danger, a great focus on sonic detail, and most importantly, magic in this set. But as Rempis describes it, Ballister knows how to shape spewing lava into meaningful and mature form thanks to their many years of shared history. The opening extended «Smash» piece unfolds like an enigmatic and unpredictable origami flower, alternating between hard-driving and fierce attacks to contemplating and touching, often even lyrical detours. But when Ballister reaches its cathartic climax there is no earthly power that can stop this sonic beast.
The second, shorter «Even More» takes Ballister into a more open and episodic dialog that introduces Nilssen-Love fascination with seductive Brazilian rhythmic patterns, Rempis’ gift to articulate instant melodies and the wild sonic imagination of Lonberg-Holm, and colors the wild and manic dynamics of the trio with seductive pulses. Together they conclude with percolating and soulful, post-bop dynamics. The closing, short piece «Grab» fuses the distinct voices of Rempis, Lonberg-Holm and Nilssen-Love into a fiery eruption that its power could have lighted – or enlightened – the city of Chicago that night and its gentleness, with a nod to traditional Ethiopian theme, could melt even the coldest hearts. Even though the trio had already been selecting material recorded during their earlier spring tour for a new release, all that went out the window after this set.
If you need some incentive to start your day, especially when the world seems crumbling into itself, take your chances on Ballister and Smash And Grab. You will not regret it.
Dave Rempis (alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone), Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello), Paal Nilssen-Love (drums)