Downtown Music Gallery

by Bryce Gallanter

Featuring Klaus E. Holm on alto sax, clarinet & feedback and Roger Arntzen on acoustic bass with Lars Myrvoll on guitar & laptop. This is the second disc that we've gotten from this unique Norwegian duo. Roger Arntzen is also the bassist for In the Country who have three discs out on Rune Grammofon. Although Ballrogg is mainly a duo, they know how to create dramatic landscapes with just bass and a sax or clarinet. Beginning with "N.R.E.M." the duo create a most haunting landscape with minimal plucked bass and hushed clarinet. Klaus adds an occasional distant feed back drone to keeps things eerie and a bit off balance. The acoustic bass and clarinet sound especially good together as they both have a sort of wooden tone. On "Monkeytown" it is to tell the difference between the feedback and the sax as they both are twisting their notes inside out. Ballrogg actually perform a cover of Morton Feldman's "Patterns in a Chromatic Field" which they also twist into an odd shape. No doubt Mr. Feldman would turn over in his grave but I found it to be somewhat charming. I often found this disc to be better when I wasn't paying close attention, since the dig the vibe more than execution. No doubt this will grow on me (like fungus) as I check out a few more times. 

All About Jazz


Contrasting his role in the remarkable Norwegian trio In the Country—responsible for the critically acclaimed debut This Was the Pace of My Heartbeat (Rune Grammofon, 2005) and even more ambitious Whiteout (Rune Grammofon, 2009)—bassist Roger Arntzen formed Ballrogg in 2006, with saxophonist Klaus Ellerhusen Holm; a more intimate duo that found its own dark nexus of form and freedom. Ballrogg (Bolage, 2008) was a well-received look at the repertoires of Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy and Jimmy Giuffre; chamber jazz with an edge. That disc also included two tracks by Holm and one by Arntzen, but for Insomnia, the emphasis shifts almost entirely to original composition, with the saxophonist contributing six of its eight tunes.

The shift to original material means more than just a walk away from familiar jazz fare like Dolphy's "Out to Lunch" and Coleman's "Sex Spy," where the duo's distinctly unorthodox approach to sound and interaction rendered them barely recognizable; Insomnia, instead, possesses more in common with contemporary classicism and oblique folklorism. The title track features an expanded lineup—including laptop artist Lars Myrvoll, and violinists Kari Rønnekleiv and Ole-Henrik Moe, the latter heard on Ciaccona / 3 Persephone Perceptions (Rune Grammofon, 2008)—combining with Arntzen's bowed harmonics and Holm's expanded clarinet technique to create a collective improvisation that owes more to microtonal composer György Ligeti and improviser Joe Maneri

than jazz hegemony. The piece may be relatively short—at just under six minutes, nearly the longest of the set—but demonstrates a surprising sense of development, as time is twisted and pulled to make it feel longer than it is, but in a good way. As dramatic as these five improvisers become—and the music possesses great but understated power, as the subtlest inflection creates surprising dynamic towards the middle of the piece—it's clearly about a collective push-and-pull, where the subtlest movement from one results, at times, in a near paradigm shift from the others.

But the majority of Insomnia remains a duo affair, with the exception of Holm's "Woody Creek," which, again featuring the violinists, sounds how Philip Glass

might, were he to work more in smaller contexts as opposed to grander scales. Pulses, repeating motifs and a surprisingly cogent form emerge, even as Holm proves his saxophone mettle through some unusual tonguing as he leads from a brief a capella to full accompaniment. Acutely controlled embouchure and multiphonics are also part of his sonic arsenal, yet their effect is often extremely subtle, going by nearly unnoticed during his brief solo segment before the reiteration of composition's structure. The elegiac "Sleepwalker," also featuring guitarist Myrvoll, provides a rare, grounded moment where defined changes and folksy strumming approach---but never quite make—some kind of normal.

What defines Ballrogg is control: control over tone; control over texture; control over dynamics. But even more definitive of this angular, obsidian duo is its ability to blur the line between what is written and what is not. Further distancing itself from the jazz canon on Insomnia, Ballrogg asserts itself as an improvising duo with a keen ear for spare, cinematic landscapes.

Chicago Reader

By Peter Margasak

Norwegian duo BALLROGG, aka reedist Klaus Ellerhusen Holm and bassist Roger Arntzen (best known from the piano trio In the Country), have reinvented the intimate, lucid jazz-based sound of their self-titled 2008 debut, where they interspersed originals with tunes by the likes of Eric Dolphy and Ornette Coleman. On the new Insomnia (Bolage) most traces of jazz language are gone—instead the music is a sober exploration of pure sound, ghostly harmony, and minimalist composition (one track is a concise adaptation of a Morton Feldman piece). On "Woody Creek," a series of contrasting episodes interrupted by Holm's gorgeously lyrical alto solo, guest violinists Ole-Henrik Moe and Kari Ronnekleiv add massed, repetitive pulsations reminiscent of Philip Glass; another guest, Lars Myrvoll, enhances the rustic elegance of "Sleepwalker" with judiciously strummed acoustic guitar and quiet laptop noises. Holm doesn't necessarily need help to create the effects he wants, though. With carefully deployed amplification and feedback, he gives his playing—whether hovering resonant tones or gentle churning patterns—a massive core and an incandescent aura. 

Fellow Norwegians VERTEX, aka guitarist Petter Vaagan and percussionist Tor Haugerud, delve even deeper into abstraction on their knockout debut, Shapes & Phases (Sofa), augmenting their instruments with electronics and live sampling. Short pieces like "Blue Shift" and "Hutong" merge fractured lap steel and acoustic-guitar licks (a la Tetuzi Akiyama) with sparse bursts of percussion texture, but for most of the rest of the album it's difficult to tell what's making any particular sound. Vertex's sonic landscapes—ominous drones, bowed strings and metal, terse synthetic crackles, hard-to-identify field recordings, ringing thwacks on what's probably an electric guitar—straddle the gap between free improvisation and collage.

Sound Of Music

By Jens Holmberg


Det är två år sedan saxofonisten och klarinettisten Klaus Ellerhusen Holm och basiten Roger Arntzen debuterade som duo. Roger Arntzen spelar sedan tidigare i In the Country och bildade Ballrogg 2006 för att få utlopp för en mer intim och fri musik. På Insomnia har de skrivit det mesta av materialet själva, förutom en komposition som är signerad Morton Feldman.

Duon låter idéerna utvecklas sakta och försiktigt. Man får känslan av att de vet var de vill musikaliskt, men att de inte har någon lust att skynda fram. På den dramatiska "Woody Creek" bygger Ballrogg långsamt upp blåa stämningar med blås och strängar. Tonerna är suggestiva och öppna när altsaxofonen viskar. Det är vackert i all sin enkelhet, flyhänt balanserat mellan det stilla och häftiga.

Musiken bär ett kargt uttryck med gott om luft mellan instrumenten. Lars Myrvoll som spelar gitarr och laptop, och violinisterna Kari Rønnekleiv och Ole-Henrik Moe förstärker sättningen på några av spåren, till exempel på titelspåret, som är en kollektiv improvisation som för tankarna till kompositören Györgi Ligeti snarare än jazz.

Musiken blir sällan särskilt påträngande. Inte ens på "Monkeytown", som är en omild historia, där skorrande blås och hårdspelande bas ljuder mot pulserande rundgång. Det tjuter och brusar men duons tonkontroll och känsla för dynamik håller i hopp bygget på behagligt avstånd.

Vad jag främst gillar hos Ballrogg är deras totala tonkontroll och dynamiska lagspel. Deras cineastiska musikvärld pendlar mellan det lekfulla och allvarlig, utan att hamna i gränslandet mellan. Det stundtals är det svårt att veta vad som är skrivet och vad som faktiskt är improviserat, men en sak är säker - Ballrogg har den rätta fingertoppskänslan för att skapa sömnlösa och sprakande ljudlandskap.