Ballister — "a freewheeling" trio — lend their talents to the genres of improvisational and free jazz. Due to the broadness and aleatoric nature of free and improvisational jazz, however, it can be particularly difficult to differentiate improvisational jazz groups from each other. There is a paradox within the genre in that, despite its lack of concrete boundaries, many still manage to tread the same musical ground. However, in my mind, Znachki Stilyag does not suffer from this paradox. The album presents a compelling study of rhythm and texture. The album is a dialectic between instruments, where rhythmic and textural 'topics' are mused and conversed over until the next one arises.
"Fuck the Money Changers" is perhaps the clearest example of this rhythmic and textural conversation between instruments. The track begins with Rempis' virulent alto saxophone blurting and spluttering into the fore, with dissonant squeals and cries only adding to its atavism. Lonberg-Holm's cello then begins conversing with the saxophone, trading insults and jabs through the wall of dissonance. As the track develops, harmony and discernable vibrato scales become ever-more apparent. Perhaps a middle-ground has been met during this rhythmic conversation. This musical agreement, however, is undermined by the alto saxophone. Much like that particularly domineering friend, it plunges the conversation back into disarray through polyrhythmic ascensions and nadirs. The cello strives to stave off this collapse; the slightest semblance of structure is provided, which Nilssen-Love's drums attempt to uphold with equal ferocity. Eventually, the saxophone — perhaps reading the room — drops off and allows the cello and drums to familiarize themselves with each other. Ghost notes and muted rhythms signify the musings of the two instruments; the mood is convivial. After this denouement, the saxophone makes a return. However, this return is a beleaguered one. Maybe to ingratiate itself, and forget the previous conversation's chaos, the saxophone becomes a harmonious instrument once again. The cello begins to dictate the flow of the conversation; rhythms metastasize, and groves grow. The three are friends once again. This comradery becomes overtly apparent when the alto saxophone, tremor saxophone and cello all harmonize into one cohesive voice; they are unified. However, this theme does not continue until the track's conclusion because the boisterous saxophone returns. It usurps the cello and takes the conversation by the scruff of the neck. The track is plunged into that all-too-familiar rhythmic abyss. As such, the conversation fades out, and the song is over.
If "Fuck the Money Changers" is a conversation, albeit it a complex and impassioned one, then "Hotel Mary Poppins" is an out-and-out bar fight. The saxophone instigates the conflict. Initially, words and unpleasantries are thrown. Cutting cymbals and high hats intersperse with the saxophone flurries, with one attempting to gain primacy and dominion over the other. The cello joins the scrap, and the saxophone becomes more and more angered, almost atavistic. Individual textures vie against each other; fists and chairs are now being thrown. Drum bass notes and dissonant cello chords envelop the saxophone, which begins to splutter and falter under the pressure. Reverberated electronic cello notes signify the apotheosis. Each instrument, bloody-nosed and fatigued, crawls back to their respective domains.
"Old Worms" follows the path paved by "Hotel Mary Poppins". However, whereas before the conflict developed organically and progressively, in this track, the listener is not afforded such a musical context. The track immediately begins with rhythmic and harmonic vicissitudes. Crying saxophone notes become enmeshed with an equally potent cello. The drums egg on this animosity, with both instruments seemingly on the verge of collapse.
As an improvisational work, Ballister manage to cut themselves from the rest through Znacki Stilyag. Each instrument has its own personality, which only adds to the listenability of the album. Rempis' saxophone is a bruiser, Lonberg-Holm's cello is the natural antithesis to Rempis' saxophone, and Nilssen-Love's drums acts as both a peacekeeper and an encourager. Due to the personalities contained in the album, it flows and appears as if the instruments are conversing. The flow, in my mind, is what allows Ballister to so adeptly explore of texture and rhythm. If Znacki Stilyag is indeed a conversation, then it is one worth eavesdropping onto.
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