This appreciation of Jeff Ballard and preview of next week’s gig at the Pizza Express is from one of the UK’s first-call drummers, Dave Smith.
Jeff Ballard sounds great on record, but there’s nothing better than seeing a musician like this live. He’s featured on two London dates with Mike Janisch, Jason Palmer and Julian Siegel at the Pizza Express in Soho 15th & 16th March. It’s an opportunity not to be missed.
I last heard him play at the Con Cellar bar in Camden with ‘Fly’, a trio with Mark Turner and Larry Grenadier. I’m always knocked out by his energy and creativity, spontaneity and constant injections of sounds and rhythms into the music. As well as his deep groove and rhythmic intricacy, the really cool thing about Jeff Ballard is his percussive approach, with an almost infinite palette of sounds and textures at his disposal. Ballard approaches music with complete openness and versatility whilst maintaining a very distinctive sound.
Part of this distinctive sound is the integration into Ballard’s jazz drumming style of hand drumming techniques and rhythms, mainly from Argentina, the Middle East and Brazil. I can really relate to this process, and to the idea of blending new rhythmical language into one’s playing. I’ve been checking out West African Sabar drumming for some time now and it has changed so many things. If you study any traditional music it is not only the new melodic, rhythmic and sonic concepts or the techniques and roles of instruments that you absorb, but also the purpose, the meaning, and the history has an impact.
Jeff Ballard is a remarkable musician, his playing is on a super deep level and he will always surprise.
See also Kate Williams’ comments on Jeff Ballard from her review last year of the Brad Mehldau trio