Drummer Jeff Ballard sure knows how to pick his playmates. In drafting one-of-a-kind guitarist Lionel Loueke and the focused-yet-irrepressible Miguel Zenon on saxophone, Ballard managed to create the most exciting trio to emerge in recent memory.
While this album is Ballard's long-awaited leader debut, it's more tempting to dub it a leaderless or leader-heavy date. Yes, Ballard is technically at the helm, but a collective sense of music making is in the air and each man is assertive enough to rival the others. It doesn't matter whether the trio is taking a rhythmically loose and out-of-focus approach on a standard ("The Man I Love"), driving the hell out of a Queens Of The Stone Age song ("Hangin' Tree"), or merging a New Orleans vibe with tropical interests and calypso tides ("Beat Interests"); in all instances it operates with one mind and one purpose, though it speaks many languages. In fact, it's this polygot approach to creationism that makes this music so compelling. On the surface, the trio has Loueke's West African roots, Zenon's Puerto Rican musical heritage and Ballard's deep experiences in all manner of jazz to contend with, but that's just the surface. When these three play together these lines and languages blur, mutate, and emerge anew.
Rhythm, not surprisingly, is the core strength of this trio. Songs like Loueke's "Virgin Forest" and Silvio Rodriguez's "El Reparador De Suenos" show what this group is really capable of when each player slices and dices his way through the others, but the trio also manages to hold interest and turn heads when things appear to float, expand and contract.
Time's Tales isn't just a strong debut and a charged trio date; it's an "Album Of The Year" contender, and considering it only hit shelves five weeks into 2014, that's saying a lot.
Virgin Forest; Western Wren (A Bird Call); Beat Street; The Man I Love; Free 1; Hangin’ Tree; Dal (A Rhythm Song); El Reparador de Suenos; Mivakpola; Free 3.
Jeff Ballard: drums and percussion; Lionel Loueke: guitar and voice; Miguel Zenon: alto saxophone.
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