Iain Ballamy, Fringe Jazz, Wednesday 28th March

Encore means ‘again’.  And so Hermeto Pascoal’s extraordinary and passionate O Farol Que Nos Guia got another outing at the end of this very special gig at The Fringe (in a weekly programme of so many special gigs – check out the programme here).  Malcolm Edmonstone was billed to complete the quartet with Iain Ballamy, Percy Pursglove on bass (and flugel of course) and Mark Whitlam on drums. A nasty shoulder injury (recover soon Malcolm!) and Ballamy was phoning a friend at short notice. As a result,  Huw Warren was on keys, long term collaborator, partner in the ECM recording line-up Quercus and a shared passion with Ballamy for blending music from a dizzying spectrum of Brazilian, classical, folk, jazz musics into a distinctive sound.   The music they created was an intensely personal set of lyrical, angular, down-right beautiful pieces.  There wasn’t an original tune in the set however.  In Ballamy’s words, they tended to meddle, even with the most familiar standard.

Whatever the tune, there was a freedom and together-ness about the quartet. Ballamy’s bitter-sweet tone traced out a melody, Pursglove scampered across the bass’s range, Warren scattered flurries of notes as Whitlam splashed, then the tightest of dance-able latin grooves sparked, to underpin Laura .  Ballamy set up a pulse and the band added layers of rhythm over which he draped the familar phrases of Mad About A Boy, transforming it into an anguished lament; more meddling! Benny Carter’s Only Trust Your Heart was another Brazilian flavoured piece, Ballamy’s take on the melody was launguidly, melchancholic before a bubbling, explosive solo from Warren, dense lyrical IMG_2821flourishes capped by bluesey turns and punctuated by two-handed percussive and meter shifting blizzards.  Whitlam’s conversational and melodic drum solo seemed to grow out of the character of the solos preceding it. I Didn’t Know What Time It Was tumbled along with a stuttering, fractured swing sculpted collectively by the ensemble. A space cleared and Pursglove switched to flugel horn. Goaded along by just drums he unleashed a coruscating solo to whoops of delight from the now local-muso heavy, standing room only crowd.

It would be no exaggeration to say Ballamy and Warren individually and together are representative of generation of British musicians who have embraced and originated a unique jazz language and sound that retains a deep connection with roots from around the world but is suffused with national and European character. They are true originals.  The late, lamented John Taylor was perhaps a pioneer of some of those musical avenues and no surprise that one his tunes closed out the set, with a dedication from the band for the Fringe’s own impresario, Jon Taylor,  a sentiment loudly applauded by the room.   This band and this music could have graced any stage in the world – Pursglove and Whitlam were an essential part of it, they were no passengers.   We can count ourselves fortunate to have caught it in The Fringe Bar’s back room, tucked away in Clifton.

I’m not sure Iain Ballamy would have un-veiled his other surprise in a bigger venue.   His love of metal detecting is no secret and such was his excitement at a recent discovery, he brought it along to pass round before taking it along to be curated; a fourth century, more or less perfectly preserved Roman bronze of women’s (goddess?) head, that sat heavily in the palm of a hand.  Another remarkable element in a memorable evening.




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