Iain Ballamy’s put on his anorak for a trip back to his roots.
Kathryn Shackleton 2007
In a break from gadding across continents playing free jazz and world music, sax-player Iain Ballamy’s put on his anorak for a trip back to his roots.
On More Jazz, Ballamy’s working with a UK rhythm section and (almost) playing straight-ahead jazz. Never conventional, instead of improvising on well-known tunes, he’s written his own: each one built around the kernel of a standard. “Tribute to Alan Skidmore’s Tribute to John Coltrane” starts meditative and airy, and suddenly the apparition of Coltrane’s “Resolution” looms up, hefty chords grounding you for a moment in 1964. “The Worm” is frenetic and edgy, while “St. Ella (Reprise)” whispers through the tenor’s upper register, hinting darkly at the melody of (you guessed it) “Stella By Starlight”.
The fast pace of this album suits pianist Gareth Williams’ agile fingers, and he shapeshifts through classical, bluesy and avant garde styles against a backdrop of thickly-woven bass and drums. “I Got Rid of Them” accelerates from 0 to 200 (beats per minute) in 30 seconds, while “Convolution (for Dudley Moore)” is a seductive tango. Iain’s breathy sax duets so closely with the piano here, that the sound of Food bandmate Stian Carstensen’s accordion comes to mind.
The only piece on More Jazz that’s not written by Iain Ballamy is a hard-swinging “My Way”, with a recurring riff that passes between the instruments, and purring flurries from Iain’s tenor. A spontaneous-sounding drum solo from Martin France and an unscripted ending are hallmarks of the whole album, which feels more like a live set than a recording.
Jazz anoraks will chuckle at the veiled references to standards in the track list, but non-nerds – well, you needn’t feel left out. This is honest jazz played by some of the UK’s best.