Ballrogg: Cabin Music
The ever-reliable Hubro label brings us two more quality releases, both of them featuring trios but ones dramatically contrasting in style. On the one hand, we've got Ballrogg, an electro-acoustic chamber-jazz group, and on the other, Cakewalk, a bruising guitar-synthesizer-drums outfit. A few details about Ballrogg should be mentioned before discussing the outfit's third recording, its first as a trio with founders Klaus Ellerhusen Holm (alto saxophones, clarinet, electronics, field recordings) and Roger Arntzen (double bass) now joined by Huntsville's Ivar Grydeland (pedal steel guitar, acoustic guitar, banjo, radio). Ballrogg's drummer-less configuration puts much of the rhythm responsibilities on the bassist's shoulders, but Arntzen, as solid a time-keeper as they come, is more than up to the challenge, and consequently Holm and Grydeland are able to pursue their agendas with assurance. That's never more apparent than during “Sliding Doors” when Arntzen's ostinato lines anchor a series of explorative saxophone and banjo musings. Throughout the disc's four tracks, Grydeland's twang naturally draws a connection between his sound and Bill Frisell's, and the clarinet-steel guitar front-line makes for an ear-catching combination.
“Swedish Country” presents eight minutes of pensive interplay between Arntzen's bass, Holm's clarinet, and Grydeland's pedal steel, with the result a ponderous tension-builder that eventually culminates in the incessant repetition of a maze-like motif. The trio's subtly hypnotic approach carries over into “Breakfast Music,” which exudes a more chamber-like feel when Arntzen opts for bowing and a more folk-styled character in featuring as much acoustic guitar playing as pedal steel. While the playing is democratic—no one instrument towers over another—and arrangements are credited to the group as a whole, the composing credit is Holm's alone. He and Arntzen established Ballrogg in 2006 as a vehicle for exploring the music of Eric Dolphy in a stripped-down format, and though the group's sound is obviously fuller with the addition of Grydeland, its members still bring a tasteful restraint to their playing. Arntzen's lines, for example, are typically sparsely defined, and the bassist's playing is refreshingly free of self-indulgence. Ballrogg isn't afraid to let its experimental side show either, as occasional smatterings of white noise surface during the recording's thirty-six minutes, though here, too, restraint is admirably exercised.
Comprised of Oystein Skar (synthesizers), Stephan Meidell (guitar, bass, and effects boxes), and Ivar Loe Bjornstad (drums), Cakewalk shows itself to be considerably more than a guitar-led improvisational trio on its debut album Wired. Krautrock, industrial, noise, and rock are key stylistic touchstones for the group, and its members draw upon backgrounds in jazz, classical, rock, and improv, having collectively played in Krachmacher, The Sweetest Thrill, Vanilla Riot, the Hilde Marie Kjersem band, and the Hedvig Mollestad Trio. That Bjornstad also drums in Mollestad's band is no small detail, as he brings a similar kind of oomph to Wired as he did to her 2011 Rune Grammofon effort Shoot!; hear, for example, how powerfully his attack stokes “Perpetual” and the title cut, and how his playing helps unleash the free-flight of his band-mates, Meidell in particular.
“Glass” burns with molten krautrock fire, driven as it is by Bjornstad's motorik rhythmning and the volcanic scene-painting of guitar fuzz and synthesizer churn. “Descent” likewise draws upon traditions such as industrial-electronica and psychedelia for the full measure of its scalding, eight-minute trip, with Meidell plunging headlong into a prolonged session of noisesculpting. Midway through the recording, “Soil” dials down the intensity for three minutes of moodscaping, but such introspective quietude is the exception to the rule. Though brief by album standards at thirty-one minutes, Wired nevertheless makes a strong case for the trio, especially when the album's six so-called improvisations actually come across more as formally through-composed pieces that the three musicians, in classic telepathic form, maneuver their way through with equal amounts of elasticity and control.