Iain Ballamy’s Food peppers the aural senses with 2001’s Organic & GM Food,
paying tribute to its inspiration while pushing the music into subconscious areas. If this record is a meal, its contents are not to be easily digested by everyone. It drives forward with a potent musical sensibility and aesthetic sense. The less traditional your tastes are, the better. I hated avant-garde music until now.
Free (or avant-garde) jazz sometimes gets a bad rap for being too emotive. Iain Ballamy challenges that with this 53-minute collection of explorations that are far best resident in the individual’s imagination. Words scarcely suffice in describing music that can be interpreted in so many ways. That is precisely what tends to annoy traditional jazz folk about music like this. Its emotive nature does defy definition, but one wonders: what is the value of that defiance?
Nobody could rightfully dispute the global value of Ballamy’s musical tangents with band mates Arve Henriksen, Mats Eilersten and Tomas Stronen. The best proof is the suspension of instrumental definition; it is at times difficult to know who is playing what and that beautifully blurs the line between the rationale and the creative within human expression. The rational-creative dichotomy is bridged here as best it can be by four men playing 12 tracks in a recording studio.
Food is a fabulous blend of countless hours of sampling and the wilds of Scandinavian folk voice. Stronen’s multiple uses of percussive elements mixes with Eilersten’s rhythmic low-end guitar. This combination is fabulously offset by the horn works of Ballamy and Arve Henriksen.
”I think my musical approach...,” writes Ballamy “was in stark contrast to the Norwegians, who seem to have a very natural and free way of playing.”
Ballamy and Henriksen work most powerfully here. Their wavy forays into subtlety make the listener teeter between what he hears and what he thinks he hears. Their stream of consciousness almost mocks time and sense. Ballamy and Henriksen voice their individual instruments conventionally in songs like “Arve’s Part”; at other times, however, the delicacy of their playing evokes images of musicians transcending their cognitive borders – as in “Steady Eddie” and “Floater.”
Iain Ballamy must be commended for pushing his creativity so far beyond his initial avant-garde work with Bill Bruford and Django Bates in the 1990s. In this day and age, music like this is very hard to finance – as evidenced by Ballamy’s releasing his last four albums on four different record labels (including thanks to the government of the United Kingdom). Still, Iain Ballamy is regarded among world leaders in this morphic musical area.
We must laugh with Iain Ballamy, too. His hilarious entitlement of certain songs reminds us to keep it all in perspective. “Chef’s Special” is a musical version of that great salad; “Too Weird?” forms a rhetorical question. The leader writes of falling over laughing as he drank tea and listened to the temperament of drummer Tomas Stronen’s previous works. Sometimes, it is highly transcendent; sometimes, it is just music.
Organic & GM Food is Iain Ballamy’s version of irradiated jazz. Its greatest value is its very existence and whatever strangeness that led to it. If you don’t like this kind of Food, you can always order something else.
Visit www.ballamy.com .
Personnel: Iain Ballamy (alto and tenor saxophone); Arve Henriksen (trumpet, voice); Mats Eilersten (bass);
Tomas Stronen (drums, percussion).