Ensemble Dal Niente/Deerhoof Mark New Chapter in Freeform With ‘Balter/Saunier (ALBUM REVIEW)

When two highly individual and independent groups join forces, the results are often anything but predictable. And when they set out on a mutual path of musical exploration that takes them and their audiences into new terrain, the sounds made in tandem can be surprising and even surreal.

Such is the case with Balter/Saunier, named for the project’s two prime movers, composer Marcos Blater and Deerhoof drummer Greg Saunier. Granted, Deerhoof have never been the easiest outfit to understand and appreciate, even on their own…especially given their proclivity for experimentation and willingness to continually defy the norm. So it makes sense that their teaming with the Chicago 22-piece Ensemble Dal Niente would produce a record that’s simply not suited to the musically meek and faint of heart. With only three entries overall — the first a series of related compositions entitled “meltDown Upshot” and the other two extended soundscapes that find varied inspiration — the music tends to be freeform and mostly devoid of traditional song structure — in short, a series of careening, dissonant, nihilistic melodies that make use of angular rhythms, oddly constructed arrangements and sounds that tow the line between progressive jazz, minimalist neo-classical compositions and the kind of avante garde music both outfits have explored on their own.

Still, there is some area of connection throughout most of this otherwise unwieldy opus. The aforementioned “meltDown Upshot” offers disparate hints of melody and freewheeling percussion to enliven its seven part sequence. The track that follows, “Pois Que Nada Que Dure, Ou Que Durando” (English translation: “For nothing lasts, or that lasting”), takes its cue from an obscure poem by Fernando Pessoa. The final entry, “Deerhoof Chamber Variations,” is, in some ways, the album’s most accessible entry, being that it takes Deerhoof’s back catalogue as the source for its sampling. Still, there’s no mistaking any of this album for catchy pop fare, and those that venture into it under that mistaken impression will surely be dismayed. On the other hand, Balter/Saunier is a compelling break from the norm, further proof that insurgency is rarely subtle.

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