WBGO Radar

Jeff Ballard Trio: Time's Tales

cover art to the Jeff Ballard Trios Times Tales

On Time’s Tales, Jeff Ballard unfurls a wide canvas of rhythm and invites Miguel Zenón and Lionel Loueke to paint the future together.

“I’ve got the best seat in the house,” says the drummer of his trio, with Zenón on alto sax and Loueke on guitar. “With these guys, there’s a real desire to express and explore.”
 
Ballard chose not to add a bass player to the group, to showcase rhythmic interactions between the three. “Because of that super-strong element of rhythm in the fore, each person is like a gravitational force,” he says. 
 
This equipoise offers the three – each at the height of his improvisational powers - ample room for conversation, and an opportunity to develop new musical language together.
 
“We’re all really drum-heads,” says Ballard, of the kinship and chemistry he has found with his bandmates. "With these guys, there's a lot of subtlety and incredible nuance in rhythm.”
 
The musicians met in New York more than a decade ago, when each was establishing a reputation as a go-to sideman. Ballard, from California, played for more than a decade with Ray Charles, as well as with Chick Corea, Pat Metheny and Brad Mehldau. Benin-born Loueke is a Thelonious Monk competition winner who tours with Herbie Hancock, and leads his own trio for Blue Note. Zenon, from Puerto Rico, has received both MacArthur and Guggenheim grants for his work.
 
The album has been a labor of love for Ballard, recorded on 2-inch analog tape with a special kit of all-skin drums he assembled from his travels around the world, whch emphasizes the warmth of their interactions. When Sony's Wolf Mueller asked Ballard if he had a special project he would like to do for OKeh Records, the jazz imprint he was relaunching, the drummer was ready.
 
Tracks include originals by all three, as well as George Gershwin’s “The Man I Love,” “Western Wren,” which started out as  a birdsong transcribed by guitarist Steve Cardenas, and even a cover of “Hanging Tree” by the rock band Queens Of The Stone Age. 
 
“Rhythm is kind of taking it’s turn now, to see how far it can go,” says Ballard. “With these guys,  there’s an integrity, freedom, and living in a world where that rhythmic aspect is activated, that brings real satisfaction.”
 
- Tim Wilkins, WBGO digital content producer
 
 
 

 

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