In his liner notes to this, the second date as a leader from trumpeter Dave Ballou, writer Mark Gardner sagaciously mentions Tim Hagan, John Swana, and Tom Williams among the talented crew of trumpeters who emerged during the early ‘90s. Of course, Ballou also fits into this group and each of these four men have in common the fact that their names are not more widely known. Pushing the envelope much in the same way that Dave Douglas has been doing now for the past couple of years, Ballou’s Volition
is just as daring as his debut set, if not more so. I mean, how many trumpeters have the courage, let alone the chops, to front it with just a bassist and drummer? But that’s exactly what happens here, and with the very capable Cameron Brown and Jeff Williams on board.
The opening “Antonio and Angelica” acts as a fanfare for what follows over the next hour. Ballou tells his stories in bursts of energy, creating the narrative as he goes along, but giving it such a reasoned logic that you wonder if he didn’t just pre-plan the entire performance. With a much more open sound than is the norm, Ballou switches to flugelhorn on “Wish’s” and “Skeptical,” also throwing in a mute for Monk’s “Light Blue.” His own tribute to Tim Hagans, “Snagahmit” (spell it backwards to get the joke) bristles with a passion and brassy sparkle that marks the other side of Ballou’s personality.
As for the other members of the team, bassist Cameron Brown’s big sound (remember him as a charter member of the Pullen-Adams Quartet in the ‘80s?) gives this obviously lean ensemble a beefy resonance. Drummer Jeff Williams is never flashy, but tailors his accompaniment to Ballou’s angular statements, impressively so on the duo’s reading of Coltrane’s “26-2.” While certainly not the type of disc for the faint-hearted, Volition will undoubtedly reward more exploratory listeners and the throngs of Dave Douglas devotees will positively eat this stuff up.