Jeff Ballard: Fairgrounds

Roger Farbey By

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The overture to Fairgrounds, "Grounds Entrance," involves an engaging percussive soundscape leading into "Yeah Pete!," which despite its exclamatory title is a laid-back feast of drums, electric piano and guitar on a similar wavelength to Miles Davis' In A Silent Way (Columbia, 1969). But "The Man's Gone" introduces a funky shift with irrepressibly upbeat wah-wah guitar from the redoubtable Lionel Loueke. At nearly three minutes into the song, Loueke's guitar goes nuclear for around half a minute, clearly signalling that he may well be the most intriguing guitarist currently playing in jazz.

Leader Jeff Ballard has been on the scene for years and is probably best known for his work with pianist Brad Mehldau. This is actually Ballard's second album as leader, the first being Time's Tale (Okeh, 2014) and Loueke appeared on that one too alongside alto saxophonist Miguel Zenon. Perhaps the unifying characteristic of Fairgrounds is, paradoxically, the disparate nature of each track. Every number is different, sometimes remarkably so. This is, to some degree, due to seven of the eleven tunes being collective compositions, often sounding spontaneously improvised.

There's some catchy rhythm and blues in the form of Kevin Hays' song "Hit The Dirt," on which his laid-back vocals are interspersed with Chris Cheek's lithe tenor soloing. Ballard's dissonant "Twelve8" offers a different direction yet again and demands instant replays to better absorb its complexity. The trance-like "Marche Exotique" is as exotic as its title suggests, subtly West African in feel. It's enhanced by Loueke's guitar and vocals. Reid Anderson's enticingly sedate "Miro" contains more tasteful guitar interjections and "Soft Rock" has a strangely spacey early-era Pink Floyd quality about it. Cheek's ballad "Cherokee Rose" is distinguished by a semblance of pulsating Native American drum beats combined with a wistful, memorable melody.

Track Listing: Grounds Entrance; Yeah Pete!; The Man's Gone; I Saw A Movie; Hit The Dirt; Twelv8; Marche Exotique; Grungy Brew; Miro; Soft Rock; Cherokee Rose.

Personnel: Lionel Loueke: guitar, vocals; Kevin Hays: piano, keyboards, vocals; Reid Anderson: electronics; Pete Rende: piano, Fender Rhodes; Jeff Ballard: drums, percussion. Guests: Mark Turner: tenor saxophone (6, 8); Chris Cheek: tenor saxophone (5, 11).

Title: Fairgrounds | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Edition Records

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