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Dave Ballou & BeepHonk "The Windup"

by Dave Ballou

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BeepHonk I 15:23


Curious word, windup. It may refer to the end of something (an inspiring speech, say), or the start of one. In baseball, everything begins with the windup: the pitcher’s kinetic contortions, before hurling the ball toward the batter. By that light The Windup is a clever title for a band’s debut: your first look at them, wound up for action—like an electrical coil. Good theory. But our story really begins with a non-metaphorical windup: Baltimore’s Windup Space, big friendly North Avenue bar that hosts all kinds of vernacular music, where (starting in 2009), bassist Adam Hopkins organized a weekly series that put fresh combinations of improvisers together, a series which prompted a few new alliances. The present quartet first came together in that series in 2011.

Trumpeter Dave Ballou had played with everybody separately. But this was something else: “From the first, we realized we were all on the same page, in terms of how we approach improvisation—as more about the ensemble than the soloing. So we kept going. At one point, around 2015, we went into a studio to make a record, but none of us felt that we caught what we were doing live. Then we played a gig at iBeam in New York, and we all realized, we should have recorded that.” So they resolved to make a live album, back at the Windup where it all began, skimming the cream from two sets.

Sometimes, when a one-shot unit becomes a band, it loses the initial spark. BeepHonk still has the squiggly, fluid grace the players bonded over. One reason it stays fresh: they’re all so busy, now more than ever, they don’t reconvene often enough to fall into ruts. Guitarist Anthony
Pirog, who lives outside Washington DC, spends a lot of time on the road, as his reputation has soared. Soon after that first gig, Hopkins moved to New York and got busy there. Ballou as ever was juggling umpteen projects—including a co-op quartet with BeepHonk drummer Mike Kuhl,
saxophonist Peter Formanek and bassist Michael Formanek, and then a freewheeling Kuhl trio, in longterm residence, Tuesdays at Bertha’s in Baltimore.

Dave Ballou again: “After that first gig, I wrote a few little pieces to give the blowing some structure, but then we’d forget to play them, and things would work out great anyway. We still had the kind of connectivity you can hear on the record. The tunes are really just reference points that we make something of or pass over.”

They pay closest attention to Ballou’s set opener “Fluffer Nutter,” a shapely line that gets the band aligned and in tune. (Steve Lacy had a few of those.) It’s a window onto the close rapport between the band’s trumpeter and guitarist, from the windup. Pirog has taken the whole
post-Rypdal post-Frisell skill set and toolkit—pterodactyl cries to deft manipulations of samples grabbed from his own playing on the fly—and made it all personal. He is eerily quick to hear where Ballou’s headed and meet him there, not that he needs someone else to make the first
move. In their give and take, they stretch each other’s phrasing, partners who take each other farther. Ballou tells all kinds of stories here, with his signature full and forthright tone on open horn. His bandmates needn’t worry he’ll get trampled. They get rowdy but not stiflingly loud.

To really appreciate the band’s modus operandi, compare the all-improvised “BeepHonk1,” where Hopkins plays the pivotal role, to the long closer buttressed by a couple of Ballou tunes. With themes or without, the players structure these long jams as a series of episodes,
typically of a minute or two, that arise, blossom and disperse, a fast-motion organic process.Collectively BeepHonk have a great sense of proportion. No episode runs too long, and they’re
never obvious about changing course. Like Adam Hopkins, Mike Kuhl steers by stealth; I love his exquisitely controlled five-minute crescendo, in the last protracted blowout. It’s a hell of a windup.
--Kevin Whitehead / April 2018


released July 13, 2018

Dave Ballou- tumpet
Anthony Pirog- guitar and effects
Adam Hopkins- double bass
Mike Kuhl- drums abd cymbals
Tracks 1 and 3 by Dave Ballou (daveballoumusic/BMI)
Track 2 by Ballou/Pirog/Hopkins/Kuhl

Recorded on March 27, 2017 at The Windup Space, Baltimore, MD
Recoded, mixed and mastered by Ed Tetreault
Produced by BeepHonk
Executive production by Pedro Costa for Trem Azul
Liner notes by Kevin Whitehead
Cover images by T.J. Huff (huffart.com)
Design by Travassos

Thanks to Russell de Ocampo


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Dave Ballou Baltimore, Maryland

Trumpeter/Composer Dave Ballou can be heard in a variety of settings; from solo trumpet improvisations to large ensembles performing notated compositions. His recordings as a leader can be found on the Steeplechase, CleanFeed and pfMentum record labels. Ballou is Professor of Music at Towson University in Towson, MD where he is the leader of the Jazz/Commercial Music program. ... more

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