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Dave Ballou: Volition

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Over the years the instrument most identified with jazz has been the trumpet, yet in recent decades few original trumpeters aside from Dave Douglas have gained much attention. There are some fine, if not well-known, ones out there, however, including Herb Robertson, Cuong Vu, Russ Johnson and Dave Ballou. Like Douglas and Cuong Vu, Ballou played in Orange Then Blue in Boston, then moved to the New York area, where he’s currently based.

Ballou’s picked up ideas from a variety of trumpeters, including Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard and Robertson, but doesn’t sound like anyone else. He has a full, warm, cultivated tone; plays very well in the lower as well as upper register; and employs wide intervals relatively frequently. Although modern, he’s a thoughtful, melodic improviser.

On Volition, the trumpeter performs with bassist Cameron Brown and drummer Jeff Williams. Seven of its 10 tunes are by Ballou, and they’re varied. “Antonio and Angelica” has a theme but the improvisation on it isn’t based on changes. “Wish’s” has a lovely theme and the solos on it are based on chord changes. “Volition” doesn’t have a theme or a preset foundation for improvisation. Ballou and Williams play John Coltrane’s “26-2” as a duo. Ballou also performs Thelonious Monk’s “Light Blue,” on which he does some very attractive muted work. Ballou’s other solos are laudable as well. He’s a sound, knowledgeable and versatile musician who can improvise impressively in a free context or on complex chord changes. Also impressive is his inventiveness; he’s able to sustain interest consistently here despite playing with only a bassist and drummer. Brown’s a strong, imaginative soloist and he and the musical Williams support Ballou superbly.