the musical box a live music blog at

Walter Tunis: Ford Theatre Reunion celebrates its first album at Buster's

Ford Theatre Reunion's eclectic mix is on an album; the release party is at Buster's

Contributing Music WriterDecember 2, 2010 

Bassist Luke Harrington and the rest of Ford Theatre Reunion will celebrate the release of their first album, Calavera Catrina.


    Ballister at Collexion: Ballister landed in town last week very much a force of nature. A sharp, violent snap of percussion by Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love and a tenor sax wail of truly terrifying proportions by Dave Rempis formed something of a storm within the concrete walls of Collexion. With the building's natural resonance serving as a sort of organic amplifier for the two un-amped players, the resulting 20-minute improvisation possessed an earth-shattering and — during several cyclic percussive patterns from Nilssen-Love — almost rockish intensity.

    Then, practically turning on a dime, the sound receded so that the tapped (with a bow) melodies of cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, the trio's remaining member, emerged as a countering voice. It was as if high tide had receded, leaving a newly charmed sound in its wake.

    Such was the appeal of the three extended, untitled improvisations (two 20-minute excursions, which comprised the first set, and a single 30-minute marathon that took up all of the second) that Ballister engaged in during the evening. The primary differences in the works from a design standpoint was Rempis' choice of weaponry. His tenor sax drive fueled the first improv, then a raw and unforgiving alto charge ran through the second. A beautifully luxurious baritone luster — which unfolded in dronelike atmospherics, playful honks and hushed, melodic tones — ignited much of the third. The latter improv set up especially mischievous dialogue between Rempis and Lonberg-Holm.

    All in all, it was a potent display of instinct, dynamics and good ol' improvisational terror.

    A footnote: Ballister's performance doubled as an anniversary for the Outside the Spotlight Jazz Series of improvisational and free-jazz concerts. Its first show was staged on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving 2002. Since then, a host of world-class jazz sessions, including multiple outings in other bands by all three Ballister members, have found a performance home in Lexington. Cheers to OTS chieftain Ross Compton for cultivating and maintaining an audience for the kind of jazz that favors artistic invention over commercial predictability and visibility. Lexington's overall artistic profile is all the richer for his work.

Ford Theatre Reunion

9 p.m. Dec. 5 at Buster's Billiards & Backroom, 899 Manchester St. $7. (859) 368-8871.

By now, we're well-versed in the traveling sideshow that is Ford Theatre Reunion. Visually resplendent, full of performance daring and stylistically indefinable, the Lexington collective is a dark musical carnival that loves to dash the senses.

But can the same magic work when the visuals are taken away? See — or, rather, hear — for yourself on Ford Theatre Reunion's debut album, Calavera Catrina. Slip it on and you are quickly strapped into a runaway train with the Tom Waits-inclined All Aboard. From there, it's a wild ride indeed as the album sails through darkly playful swing with a dash of klezmer (Of All the People), a blues-roots reflection recast as a New Orleans dirge (Soul of a Man), some boozy jazz blues (Sepulcro del Jugador), a deliciously odd pairing of gypsy fiddle animation and dub style rhythms (Flies), and dizzying, Pogues-like string mayhem (Burning House).

Such delights are your reward for allowing Ford Theatre Reunion some home listening. For the full carnival effect, catch the band in action Sunday, when it celebrates the release of Calavera Catrina at Buster's with help from the equally audacious March Madness Marching Band, Ian Thomas of Knoxville, Rakadu Gypsy Dance and Deadly Sins Burlesque.

Thorn in your side

It's been a year or two — back to the days of The Dame, at least — since Paul Thorn last played in Lexington. The songwriter and onetime prize fighter returns Thursday to peel back a few more layers of his ultra-colorful past.

He will be showcasing songs from his recent album Pimps and Preachers. The title refers to the opposing occupations of two of the more influential grown-ups in Thorn's life during his childhood: his father (a Pentecostal minister) and his uncle (a former pimp). The album doesn't deal so much with conflicts as it does with blunt differences, which shift from the splintered romanticism of Love Scar to the wavering faith of Better Days Ahead to the more assured That's Life, based on narratives from Thorn's mother.

Thorn will mix those yarns with a dark Americana accent at Bar Lexington, 373 East Main Street. The Squirrels will open. (7:30 p.m. $15. (859) 523-7694.)

'WoodSongs' 2010 finale

WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour wraps up 2010 with a taping Monday featuring a typically roots-driven double bill of bluegrass and country.

On tap will be The Steeldrivers, a string-music ensemble that contributed a pair of tunes to the recent film Get Low, which starred Bill Murray and Robert Duvall. The S teeldrivers, perhaps by definition, is a bluegrass band. But its lyrics reflect the hard life lessons of traditional country, while its music forges tradition around occasional soul and country inspiration.

Also performing will be Molly Andrews, a bona fide coal miner's granddaughter, who has performed alongside John Zorn and Mike Seeger and in such unexpected venues as the late, lamented New York punk haven CBGB. Andrews will preview music from her forthcoming album Bird on a Briar. (6:45 p.m. $10. For reservations, call (859) 252-8888.

After Monday, WoodSongs goes on hiatus. It will return in mid-January.

On the road

Finally, here are two road-trip shows, both Friday night, that bear mentioning. The veteran blues-rock troupe The Nighthawks performs at Jim Porter's, 2345 Lexington Road in Louisville (7 p.m., $12). The folk favorite son of Muhlenberg County, John Prine, visits the Aronoff Center's Proctor & Gamble Hall, 640 Walnut Street in Cincinnati (8 p.m.; $42.40, $52.50).

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service