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Dave Ballou: Amongst Ourselves

C. Andrew Hovan By

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While it may be unfair to the musicians involved to make comparisons to others, it often aids in better defining a chosen player's given point of departure. With that said, let it be known that trumpeter Dave Ballou is a remarkable new discovery whose playing falls in the same general orbit of such forward-thinking men as Tim Hagans and Dave Douglas. Ballou, a New England resident and jazz educator, has played with many name artists including Maria Schneider, Duke Robillard, Clark Terry, Vic Juris, and Steve LaSpina. His recorded work with the last named gentleman provided the impetus for Ballou's Amongst Ourselves, his debut set as a leader for SteepleChase.

The pianoless quartet heard here plays music that pushes the envelope, with the influence of the classic Ornette Coleman quartet being an obvious inspiration. Their concept of time is one that is elastic in nature; drummer Jeff Williams more than not states the pulse in an indirect manner. Further assurance of individuality is guaranteed by a program that consists entirely of pieces written by Ballou and tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby. "The Great Matter" is a typical piece in that the "head" of the tune is slowly stated by Ballou and Malaby in rubato fashion, with drummer Jeff Williams providing splashes of color here and there. Then a series of collective improvisations between the front line partners develops before a restatement of the lead melody takes us out. "Line", the longest track here, begins with a poly-rhythmic solo from Williams to be followed by a fanfare from Ballou and Malaby and searching improvisations from the former that recall the work of Kenny Wheeler.

For the maiden voyage of an unknown artist, Amongst Ourselves is an audacious and chancy statement. Nothing about this date smacks of commercial concerns and while there are many reference points available to the astute listener (some of which are mentioned above), Ballou's music takes many hearings in order to digest and process. Since the release of this disc overseas, the trumpeter has cut another SteepleChase set recording with just a bassist and drummer, suggesting that he continues to challenge himself in an attempt to further the music and not wallow in the past. During these time of "cookie cutter" jazz, we can be grateful to him for that.

Track Listing: All About Joey, Blake's Vision, Amongst Ourselves, Phone Queen, Boom Boom, The Great Matter, 7.5, Line, J.W., Bidu, Skuds (66:22)

Personnel: Dave Ballou- trumpet, Tony Malaby- tenor saxophone, Michael Formanek- bass, Jeff Williams- drums

Title: Amongst Ourselves | Year Released: 1999 | Record Label: SteepleChase Records


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