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Fly - Sky & Country Rating: 3 out of 5 Elegantly restrained music in which nothing seems superfluous and in which nothing is overstated

Mark Turner - Soprano and Tenor saxophones

Larry Grenadier - Double bass

Jeff Ballard - Drums

It’s hard to resist the temptation to refer to the tracks on this CD as ‘miniatures’ or ‘vignettes’, but those terms really don’t apply except to convey first impressions of this elegantly restrained trio’s music, in which nothing seems superfluous and nothing is overstated. Fly take something of the democratic magic of ‘lower case’ improvisation and apply it to the classic saxophone trio format, equitably promoting the ‘rhythm section’ to equal footing status; literally so, Fly started out as the Jeff Ballard Trio. It’s a simple twist (if surprisingly uncommon), but by diverting the listeners’ focus from the putative lead instrument into a consideration of the music as a fully integrated whole any potential losses—certainly, if it’s barnstorming solos you’re looking for, you should look elsewhere—are more than compensated for by the deeper and more purely musical richness of this music. Fly’s style is consummate idiomatic Jazz, each member’s undiluted voice bound up in a three-way interplay that never runs shy of groove or melody.

The Jeff Ballard Trio became Fly for their first album, which they made in 2004. Their association apparently goes back to the early 90s, with Ballard and Grenadier at that point already having known each other for a decade. So their collective experience is formidable; a notable recent pairing of Turner and Grenadier can be heard on Enrico Rava’s marvelous ECM recording, New York Days. Ballard may be listed first, as precedence dictates, but Fly’s composition credits are democratically shared, with Jeff Ballard supplying three titles, Turner four, and Grenadier two, thus ensuring a satisfying variety across Sky & Country’s nine tracks. Each band member has a distinctive authorial ‘voice’, and it’s coming to an appreciation of the qualities of each that slowly brings the listener to a full appreciation of the album as a whole.

The opening Lady B is busily animated, with Turner weaving measured lines around Grenadier’s flexible rhythm and Ballard’s agile accompaniment. The following title track, by contrast, maintains a stately mid tempo. At various points in each piece, each player takes his turn to determine the melodic development. Everyone is clearly thinking hard, but that impression is offset by a keen sense of the physical intuition of these practiced musicians. The common thread is an almost insouciant relaxedness that can only come from a deep mutual empathy between the three men, allied to a questing melodic sensibility that stands entirely apart from the blustering machismo attendant on so much sax-led, post-Coltrane Jazz. Fly seem interested not so much in Transcendence and personal expression as in a more introspective and rigorous commitment to their communal music.

Sky & Country

Fly

Friday, October 30, 2009

Reviewed by: Tim Owen

Album Review

3 out of 5

Sky & Country

Elegantly restrained music in which nothing seems superfluous and in which nothing is overstated

Mark Turner - Soprano and Tenor saxophones

Larry Grenadier - Double bass

Jeff Ballard - Drums

It’s hard to resist the temptation to refer to the tracks on this CD as ‘miniatures’ or ‘vignettes’, but those terms really don’t apply except to convey first impressions of this elegantly restrained trio’s music, in which nothing seems superfluous and nothing is overstated. Fly take something of the democratic magic of ‘lower case’ improvisation and apply it to the classic saxophone trio format, equitably promoting the ‘rhythm section’ to equal footing status; literally so, Fly started out as the Jeff Ballard Trio. It’s a simple twist (if surprisingly uncommon), but by diverting the listeners’ focus from the putative lead instrument into a consideration of the music as a fully integrated whole any potential losses—certainly, if it’s barnstorming solos you’re looking for, you should look elsewhere—are more than compensated for by the deeper and more purely musical richness of this music. Fly’s style is consummate idiomatic Jazz, each member’s undiluted voice bound up in a three-way interplay that never runs shy of groove or melody.

The Jeff Ballard Trio became Fly for their first album, which they made in 2004. Their association apparently goes back to the early 90s, with Ballard and Grenadier at that point already having known each other for a decade. So their collective experience is formidable; a notable recent pairing of Turner and Grenadier can be heard on Enrico Rava’s marvelous ECM recording, New York Days. Ballard may be listed first, as precedence dictates, but Fly’s composition credits are democratically shared, with Jeff Ballard supplying three titles, Turner four, and Grenadier two, thus ensuring a satisfying variety across Sky & Country’s nine tracks. Each band member has a distinctive authorial ‘voice’, and it’s coming to an appreciation of the qualities of each that slowly brings the listener to a full appreciation of the album as a whole.

The opening Lady B is busily animated, with Turner weaving measured lines around Grenadier’s flexible rhythm and Ballard’s agile accompaniment. The following title track, by contrast, maintains a stately mid tempo. At various points in each piece, each player takes his turn to determine the melodic development. Everyone is clearly thinking hard, but that impression is offset by a keen sense of the physical intuition of these practiced musicians. The common thread is an almost insouciant relaxedness that can only come from a deep mutual empathy between the three men, allied to a questing melodic sensibility that stands entirely apart from the blustering machismo attendant on so much sax-led, post-Coltrane Jazz. Fly seem interested not so much in Transcendence and personal expression as in a more introspective and rigorous commitment to their communal music.


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