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Jon Ballantyne : Jon Ballantyne 4tets + Dewey Redman

Although Canadian pianist-composer Jon Ballantyne has recorded seven albums under his own name and appeared live and on record with such luminaries as Roy Haynes, Paul Bley, Billy Hart and Dave Liebman, he still floats around in hard-bop obscurity. Jon Ballantyne 4tets + Dewey Redman, a 2000 recording re-released last year and featuring the vaunted saxophonist on four cuts (including a rare turn on alto), may not thrust him into the upper echelon of jazz royalty, but it should gain him a few new fans, especially those who are enamored of the adventurous postbop of Andrew Hill, Bill Evans and Herbie Nichols.

The album is bookended by “Round Again” and “Round Again, Again” (the latter further exploring the thematic development of the former), emphasizing Redman’s alto playing on arrangements reminiscent of late- ’50s Ornette Coleman and late-’60s Charles Tolliver; in fact, Redman’s approach hews quite closely to his peers’ here. The horn interplay-the other being Douglas Yates’ bass clarinet-is exhilarating, and Ballantyne’s serpentine solo tops it off perfectly. Redman also appears on “Fred Blue’s Lucky Thirteen,” a smoky, slow blues a la Oliver Nelson’s “Stolen Moments,” and “In Dew Time,” another angular, knotty piece that could have been a lost tune from the Tomorrow Is the Question! sessions.

Other highlights include drummer Gene Jackson’s “Interlude,” a minute-long solo accentuated by melodically inventive tom rhythms and crisp cymbal patterns; the hypnotic, minimal, two-note bass-and-piano groove of “Scotch Neat”; and the mellow, slightly languid impressionism of both “N-Chant” and “Anne’s Dream.” Although Ballantyne’s lyrical piano playing is strongly rooted in the hard-bop, blues and classical hybrid of the postbop ’60s, his compositions introduce intriguing modern elements, making Jon Ballantyne 4tets + Dewey Redman an exciting, fresh take on avant-garde jazz.

Originally Published