COMPOSERS: Iain Ballamy,Thomas Strønen
PERFORMER: Iain Ballamy (ts, ss), Arve Henriksen (t, v), Mats Eilertsen (b), Thomas Strønen (d)
CATALOGUE NO: ASFA 104
Iain Ballamy is one of the most adventurous musicians in the UK and Europe, and at last year’s BBC Radio 3 British Jazz Awards a new category was created when he received the award for most innovative musician.
Food is the name of his quartet, which includes three highly gifted Scandinavians. Their first, eponymous album, released two years ago, broke new ground, which Organic & GM Food continues to explore. Six of the 12 pieces are attributed to the group, Ballamy contributes five pieces and Strønen one.
Ballamy has a wonderful melodic flair and his opening piece, ‘A Prayer Before Tea’, is tender and mysterious. His saxophone and Henriksen’s trumpet play in unison and harmony, the bass plays slow notes and phrases with lightly clattering percussion, and the whole performance ends thoughtfully.
Ballamy’s finely wrought compositions all have a poetic, elegiac atmosphere, as do some of the Food pieces, but two of them at least, ‘Too Weird’ and ‘Whistler’, seem like ribald reactions against the misty emotional climate. Henriksen can conjure up the most affecting trumpet timbres and, on the Food piece ‘Jaswinder’, he sounds like a hoarsely mellow bass flute.
He’s also a remarkable vocalist with a countertenor range and a variety of vocal effects. Strønen’s ‘Techno Josh’ is the final and most dynamic piece, featuring a catchy rhythm under a plaintive melody, with humour and a fiery tenor and trumpet climax.
Food feeds the soul. Laura is the excellent debut album of young Scottish saxophonist Laura Macdonald, who seems to have burst fully fledged into the jazz world, rather as her famous husband, Tommy Smith, did some years ago. The album was recorded in the USA in September 2000, with three top-ranking Americans in her rhythm section.
She’s a virtuoso improviser with a maturity beyond her years, and she also has considerable talent as a composer – four of the eight pieces are hers. ‘The Hex’, her opener, begins with an ominous bass riff and intriguing melody that evolves into a super-fast performance. Her alto sax solo at this speed shows great control, phrasing and rich ideas.
Budway’s piano solo scintillates and Watts has a long drum solo over the ominous bass riff, before the final playout. The glorious sonority and fluidity of her soprano sax illuminate Metheny’s ballad ‘Always and Forever’, and other stand-out performances include ‘Have You Met Miss Jones?’ and Macdonald’s joyous ‘Last Confession’.