The members of Ballister are all prolific musicians who are well acquainted with each other, personally and musically. Cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm and saxophonist Dave Rempis both reside in the fertile Chicago improvisation scene and have shared the stage in the Vandermark 5. Drummer Paal Nilssen-Love hails from Norway, but he could be considered an honorary Chicagoan, having played with numerous musicians there.
The rapport between these three gives the music a forward direction that can be felt in the opening minutes of the first track, “Release Levers.” It begins with some frenzied alto and splattering drums, with Lonberg-Holm entering with a drone. Throughout the nearly 20-minute piece, the group constantly shapes and reshapes their sound. Most tellingly, they let the free blowing reach a climax three minutes in and quickly pull back toward a more pensive mood. In the final minutes they rock hard, with a junkyard cello and barbed alto going wild over a beat that could have come from a Led Zeppelin song. This is free improv with depth.
“Claplock,” just a few minutes shorter, continues the energy, Lonberg-Holm sounding bluesy as he plucks and then bows a slow moaning part. The trio professes a connection to Julius Hemphill’s trio that included cellist Abdul Wadud, and there are moments here where it can be felt.
The final track, “Roller Nuts,” lasts 28 minutes and provides a little more of a challenge. It begins at a high point of wildness, with Rempis wailing in the upper register over thunderous drums. There are moments where the players sound content to just stay put at one level of energy, but there are still nuances, such as Rempis switching briefly to baritone, and a solo from Nilssen-Love that includes spacey phase-shifting effects.