All Men Amen (BW065)
Iain Ballamy's first solo album since Balloon Man for EG Records in 1988 picks up from where the last track on that collection - 'All I Ask Of You' - left off. Acclaimed for its loving re-interpretation of the work of a West Virginian monk, 'All I Ask...' acts as an early signpost toward Iain's fully-realised version of English jazz lyricism. The spiritual cadence is there from the opening, with tenor sax and horn creating an ambient chant. This ends and Django Bates' piano and Iain's sax re-enters reflectively, with Steve Watts' warm acoustic bass underpinning the melody and Martin France's drums building layers of subtle tone before the track subsides into wistful piano and a final sax cry.
On 'Serendipity', Iain's alto sax dips and lilts against a regular
pulse. The piano picks up the gauntlet and propels the piece forward,
with martin's snare and feather drumming intense behind. The piano
combines lead and descant beautifully, before Iain returns to prove
that 'Serendipity' is about the pleasure of unexpected discovery.
Django's playing on 'Blennie' winds itself around the melody like a
chiffon scarf. Iain's sensitive phrases and underplayed technique
beguile then listener, whispering rather than blowing, while the piano
trickles into the gaps like Spring rain into heather. Achingly pretty.
The mood changes dramatically on the next piece. Django's muted
keyboards (a ghostly sample of Iain's alto) on 'Haunted Swing' leads us
into the unknown and Iain's insidious sax maintains the suspense.
Dramatic piano interrupts to keep us pinned. Voices chatter in the
background. Iain's playing is spooky, leading to a melodramatic
denouement and a final tattoo on the drums from Martin France, like
being shaken awake from a bad dream. Eerie isn't in it.
'Oaxaca' is a city in Mexico where the mood is relaxed and sunny, with
Django conjuring visions of high sierras from his piano before Iain's
tenor blows in like a cool breeze to cut the humidity. Martin France
splashes in some drum colour here and there with his consummate good
taste and Steve Watt's unobtrusive, intuitive bass playing is
telepathic in its timing; the razor sharp shadow thrown on a white
washed wall by the sun at high noon.
The overture to 'Meadow' is a dram and bass duet, laying down an
imposing figure before Iain and Django join in, blending alto and horn
in a serenading pastoral theme that conjures up the heart of Albion.
Django's horn leads with Iain flying in hot pursuit. At the climax,
horn and alto catch up with each other with stupendous results.
'This World...' is a reflective piece with Iain contributing a
beautifully fluid solo in contemplation of this world and the next. If
anyone should doubt that the saxophone has a voice, listen and believe.
'Further Away', a Django Bates composition, explores the full register
of the solo saxophone, with just a trace of the Lower East Side echo,
until the subtle keyboard accompaniment provides cover to enable the
sax to walk into the foreground. The tone is plaintive and
angst-ridden, gradually disappearing, repeating ever more faintly, like
ripples in a deep pool.
This band shows that four players can equal more than the sum of their parts. Welcome to the British jazz quartet, re-defined.
Track Listing (30 Second Samples)
1. All Men Amen
4. Haunted Swing
7. This World
8. Further Away
Iain Ballamy saxophones
Django Bates keyboards and tenor horn
Steve Watts double bass
Martin France drums and percussion