Free-Garde. Free jazz and avant-garde styles were the same evolutionary answer to bebop that bebop was to swing. Both movements represented a loosening of the previous genre's harmonic constraints, exploring the near accepted and the taboo. To our ears today, the sound of early Ornette Coleman's (pre-Free Jazz) Atlantic recordings does not sound so strange. Miles Davis' great '60s quintet went a long way to opening the ears of a jazz listening public. It was these prodromal influences that make the music of Dave Ballou readily listenable and enjoyable.
Amongst Ourselves is Dave Ballou's maiden voyage as a leader. Producer Nils Winther was so impressed with Ballou's contribution to Steve LaSpina's CD When Children Smile (Steeplechase) that he wanted to ink him right away. The result of this urgency is Amongst Ourselves, recorded in 1997 and released a year later. For his first date as a leader, Ballou selected the formidable and adaptable rhythm section of bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Jeff Williams. In front with him is tenorist Tony Malaby, who plays an effective id to Ballou's ego, as well as sharing the composing duties on the disc.
This is rambunctious, almost out of control music. If Coleman's Free Jazz and Coltrane's Live in Japan are free association exercises, then Amongst Ourselves is a tonal Rorschach Test. The music probes the area where composition and improvisation dissolve into one another without losing impact or meaning. This disc would be of interest to all of those freebirds and avant-garde flagbearers. Moldy figs beware!
Track Listing: All About Joey; Blake?s Vision; Amongst Ourselves; Phone Queen; Boom Boom; The Great Matter; 7.5; Line; J.W.; Bidu; Skud. (Total Time: 62:22)
Personnel: Dave Ballou: Trumpet; Tony Malaby: Tenor Saxophone; Michael Formanek; Jeff Williams: Drums.
I was first exposed to jazz while working overseas in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I would listen to the Voice of America on the radio and they had a nightly jazz program on at 10:00pm. I learned a lot about jazz listening to this program. I also had a friend who listened to real jazz by artists like Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy and Archie Shepp. On my way home from Africa I landed in New York and had the opportunity to see the George Adams/Don Pullen quartet at the Village Vanguard as well as Kenny Barron and Ron Carter at another club, and was in heaven.