In their sophomore outing on the ECM label, Food continues their shape-shifting evolution, both in personnel and musical outcomes. With influences of jazz, electronica and world music, UK saxophonist Iain Ballamy and Norwegian percussionist Thomas Strønen remain as the nucleus of a group that has managed to reinvent itself with each of its seven releases. Through their fruition from a standing quartet to an augmented duo, there has been an ethereal consistency in context and quality. Mercurial Balm is something of a stylistic hybrid of previous Food outings; different, yet familiar and consistently interesting.
In contrast to their previous album, a significant point of departure on Mercurial Balm is the overall absence of trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer who appears only on one track. Molværwho succeeded fellow Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksenwas a prevailing influence in Food's outstanding Quiet Inlet (ECM, 2010). That collection took a distinctly jazz oriented turn compared to the experimentation of earlier works such as Molecular Gastronomy (Rune Grammofon, 2008) and Last Supper (Rune Grammofon, 2004). Mercurial Balm doesn't follow the previous formula as this outing includes even more electronic contributors in the dual roles of alternating guitarists Christian Fennesz and Eivind Aarset.
Despite the ongoing changes in Food's personnel, the music remains verdant and animated with Ballamy's role more frequently emphasized through pronounced melodic lines that counter Strønen's layers of pulsation and ethereal grooves. Nowhere is the oxymoronic album title more appropriate than in the transition from "Astral" to "Moonpie." On the former, Strønen initiates a slow build from tribal percussion to a more complex mélange of subdued electronic effects and setting for Ballamy's finest work. "Moonpie" follows with the solebut haunting and inspiredcontribution from Molvær.
Cross-genre compositions work best when they are additive; a tenor sax and synthesizer attaching to each other rather than endlessly competing. Ballamy and Strønen have always done very well at skirting around musical definitions and on Mercurial Balm they continue to succeed at raising consciousness through very transformational pieces.