A local gig in Bath, three residents of nearby Frome popping over for a first outing of a new line-up and, by their account, the first outing of any kind in front of a live audience for any of them for some months. The trio were greeted by a sold-out room and everyone was visibly happy to be there. What marked it out as doubly special of course was the presence of tenor man Iain Ballamy, and the quality of his partners, Henrik Jensen on bass and Dave Smith on drums, both with an increasingly heavy weight list of credits and adventurous and creative projects to their name.
The trio served up two sets of standards and classics with their ‘note to selves’ being to listen and find their own, collective, way into them. What came through the music was a vivid impression of a personality and sound for the trio. Ballamy’s sound is utterly distinctive on tenor, perhaps most unmistakable when sketching ideas and atmospheres, or tracing out a melody. Plaintive upper register cries foreshadowed the melody of Jimmy Rowles’ Peacocks, a standout moment as the trio showed their quality making a ballad swell and burst with pensive tension; breezy hoots from the tenor ushered in My Ship and a languorous reading of the melody, before Ballamy flurried and flowed around the sequence sotto voce. At other times a barking, rhythmic pulse marshaled the band to play East of the Sun, or whimsical flurries and breathy slurs established a looser, tumbling vibe to play Summer Night or Secret Love, the trio seeming to sway collectively in the the ebb and flow of meter and melody.
Jensen’s resonant sound and crisp articulation were a real delight, frequently building solo lines that sang and swooped, in between really digging in and injecting a bristling energy. Smith’s instinct for adding colour and texture brought another dimension alongside crackling rhythms and occasional bursts of rocky momentum.
This was absorbing evening of familiar music given unfamiliar twists with the occasional glint of mischief and humour in the musical eye. A joy at anytime, but a really special treat after a long drought. And you don’t have to take my word for it, the gig was streamed – a first toe in the water in that stream (ouch) for a Nod Knowles production – and it’s currently up on YouTube here: Live Stream with a link to donate if you wish.