On This Day
On This Day reminds me of recordings made by modern jazz players of the post-hard-bop era in response to free jazz, like the Don Friedman/Attila Zoller collaborations in the '60s. The musicians here sound like they usually play inside, but for On This Day they eschew preset structures.
Ballou is a fine trumpeter, and his front-line mates Billy Drewes and Tony Malaby are convincing contributors on alto and tenor, respectively (Drewes also doubles on soprano). Most of their horn lines are relatively straightforward, harmonically, but they make full use of the free framework, allowing their phrasing to go where it will, and there is some excellent interplay. This music has little in common with that of most contemporary free-thinkers, though parallels with early Ornette Coleman abound. Bassist Michael Formanek has a big sound and even bigger ears, and drummer Tom Rainey not only drives, colors and dramatizes, he also consistently avoids the obvious, which seems to keep everyone on their toes.
Listeners who believe that free playing is only about angst and catharsis should check out this impressive and engaging outing.