July 2005

Jon Ballantyne 4tet
July 2, 2005Goethe InstitutToronto
"Talk To Me"
by David Fujino

It was Saturday night (the second last night of The TD Canada Trust Toronto Downtown Jazz Festival) and a small audience was gathered in the intimate Kinowelt Hall at the Goethe Institut. They expected to hear something a little different.

Host Ron Gaskin walked on. "Hi, I'm Bob Geldoff," he said. We laughed.

Gaskin then hastened to add that he wasn't being critical: he did think that (Bob Geldoff's) "Live 8" was a positive action; and he did think musicians can help change things — and tonight, we were going to hear some musicians.

Probably they'll play, "full bore", he said.

Jon Ballantyne

They played full bore — 'they' being the "Jon Ballantyne 4tet", (Canadian Ballantyne's NY quartet), who thankfully dropped in to play for us during their nine-city Canadian tour.

"When Will The Blues Leave?" — the Ornette Coleman tune — further set the tone, or should I say tones? as alto player Douglas Yates soloed with jagged phrasing, vocal cries, and an unalloyed joy in freeing up the melody. He negotiated the expanding and contracting boppish line, bouncing its tones around, his swift body a choreography of sympathetic motion, shifting and swaying madly.

Jeff Hirshfield played drums with total concentration, sensitivity and restraint all evening, always listening to the soloist and the other band members, always articulating the music of the total group sound. He could teach courses in empathy. (In fact, at the concert's end, I just had to blurt out to him in passing, "You converse very well.")

Jon Ballantyne lays out when the others solo: he's at the post, enjoying the music and its live unfolding. When it's his turn to solo, he plays simply and sparingly: harmonic cells are jabbed into the flow here — and there, as Ballantyne cooperates with and listens to the current of music. His soloing and his compositions are the poised and space-filled design of his mind.

Boris Koslov is such a beautiful warm-toned bass player. His fingers move as a totally flexible system. You can see he's solidly trained. Whether inter-communicating, or delivering one of his complex yet clear and lyrical solos, Koslov never failed to delight. He's a 'post-Scotty LaFaro' bass player — meaning, he can play like a horn player and still keep time and play all the important notes.

This music was not fusion, nor world music with jazz, nor electronically-driven, nor mixed with hip-hop and dance beats. It was extremely satisfying acoustic jazz — creative acoustic jazz.

But a short sample from the set list might help you better zone in on what the music 'sounded like.'

"Lennie's Pennies", by the late pianist Lennie Tristano. Tristano's challenging compositions (and his playing) are contemporaneous with Bird. Tristano is seen by some as one of the fathers of the avant-garde. He looked into different time tempos and different scales.

"Home" (based on "You'd be So Nice To Come Home To") was a medium tempo pleasure. We heard suggestions of the original melody, but this group was not merely quoting, they were extending re-composition and then playing on that.

"Scotch Neat" by Ballantyne, is a stop-and-start kind of tune, with recurring motifs and quiet rhythmic figures ('tick-tock-tick-tock') which become sparse background for the emerging solos.

"Anne's Dream", also by Ballantyne, is based on a slow arpeggio of 5 notes, recurring like a recurring dream. Think the ballads of Carla Bley.

The group did 'swing' — a swing which approached the status of what Duke referred to as 'dynaflow' (Hirshfield was certainly responsible for a lot of this dynaflow. ) But it wasn't all toe-tapping swing. This was total body/mind wholistic swing.

On this evening, I felt so good and happy. My ears were cleaned out, and I was back to the first days when I heard jazz and really loved it.

That's what the "jon ballantyne 4tet" did for me.

They simply played their music.

( ... And yes, I did buy Jon Ballantyne's CD, "jon ballantyne 4tets + dewey redman"
[r.a.w. Real Artists Works 1001])

We welcome your comments and feedback
David Fujino
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