Iain Ballamy quintet; Moses Boyd
(Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 1 May, 2 May 2022. Reviews by Jon Turney)
Quite the Mayday weekend for Iain Ballamy. He premiered a saxophone concerto written for him in Cardiff on Friday night (see Mike Collins review here). A first contribution to Cheltenham jazz festival followed on Saturday afternoon, when he helped Denny Ilett’s storming Electric Lady Big Band confirm that their arrangements of Jimi Hendrix songs are perfect festival fare.
Then a breather before Ballamy set up on stage in the Parabola theatre to debut his own new project, Fascinada, one growing out of the love of Brazilian music he shares with regular partner pianist Huw Warren and more recent collaborator Rob Luft on guitar.
The idea is to create pieces inspired by the likes of Jobim and Hermeto Pascoal, and the band – aided by Conor Chaplin on bass and Will Glaser on drums – certainly catch the combination of rhythmic complication and melodic beauty so often heard from that country’s composers. It’s happy, sophisticated, uplifting music, said Ballamy: “that’s why we’re doing it”. And it surely was.
Their set was organised as a series of free-wheeing band intros that each gradually coalesced into one of the newly written pieces – a shift calling for closer attention to the sheaves of manuscript paper that festooned the stage. All the soloists shone, but Luft had a particularly good evening, his liquid sound especially effective on his own piece, Tributary, inspired by Egberto Gismonti. A chorinho by (I think) Ballamy furnished a storming finish from a band that promises much when these pieces have bedded in a little more.
The following afternoon in the Jazz Arena saw a different take on rhythmic intensity with subtlety from Moses Boyd’s band. This was absorbing stuff from the opening episode, an atmospheric reflection taking off from where Miles’ In A Silent Way left off. Boyd’s mesmerising beats soon propelled the band into a deeper groove, complemented by Renato Paris’ compellingly dark synth bass. That’s a key ingredient of the band sound, which coheres into something quite special.
It’s a collective sound, although there was a brilliant extended drum interlude from the leader and a romantic solo keyboard feature for Paris. The fact that the London scene has nurtured a cadre of cross-genre performers who all play from the same place was underlined by the presence of Tyrone Isaac Stuart on alto sax, drafted in at no notice the night before but sounding completely at home in the music.
Like the Electric Lady Big Band show this was a sellout, and like that band – whose inspiration goes back fifty years earlier – Boyd’s ensemble plays music that fuses jazz elements with other kinds of excitement in the most satisfying way.