In the Jeff Ballard Trio, wach musician comes from a completely different place: Lionel is from Benin, Miguel from Puerto Rico and Jeff from North America. The band and music come together in the love, respect, and open-mindedness they have for all genres of music across the globe and from all epochs. There are no borders to dictate their sound except their own desires and taste. Each musician brings his own cultural roots to their music, whether it be from the American song book or an Iranian folk melody.
Their sound is defined and proudly flavored with the distinction imparted by each of their countries’ heritage. It is contemporary and relevant within the current times. The repertoire they play includes Thelonius Monk, Iranian folk melodies, Bartok, Duke Ellington, George Gershwin and improvised melodies from bird calls. They cover songs from pop artists such as Queens Of The Stone Age and Stevie Wonder, as well as playing their own compositions.
The music is full of complex rhythms, exotic harmonies and soulful melodies. It is rhythmically very precise whilst playing openly and freely, deliberately pushing and breaking down any limits that harmony and rhythm might present resulting in dynamic tensions and suspense.
Time's Tales is the trio's first CD. The overall idea of the recording was to make the sound reflect the character of the band as closely as possible. Everything was recorded with all musicians playing in the same room together and was recorded to 2 inch analogue tape, capturing the organic nature of the group's sound and exciting musical interaction between the players. The repertoire on Time's Tales is as varied and adventurous as the trio's live performances are.
The CD opens with Lionel's Virgin Forest which, with the yells and a laugh at the beginning of the track, exhibits the enthusiasm there is in this ensemble. The song is a funky African groove in 9/4. The second piece is a transcription of a Western Wren bird call. It features Ballard with brushes weaving in and out of the melody at the beginning and a rapid call and response between Loueke and Zenon. The improvisation reaches a critical tension point and where it finally explodes into recapitulation of the melody.
Track 3, Beat Street, was composed by Ballard. The song's highly energetic melody and parade-like dance beats, changing tempos and shifting directions, mark the up-lifting character of this song and adventurous spirit of the band. Gershwin's The Man I Love exhibits the deep knowledge and embrace of the American music tradition.
Free 1 is a short free improvisation which prepares the listener's ears for the change of sonics from the very acoustic to the extremely electric sounds on track six. Track six is Hangin' Tree, a cover of one of today's more popular rock groups, Queens Of The Stone Age. In this piece the band reveals another layer of unsuspected character.
Dal (A Rhythm Song) is taken from Bela Bartok's 44 Duos for 2 Violins. This haunting piece works wonderfully with the two voices of alto saxophone and guitar. Silvio Rodriguez's bolero El Reperador Del Suenos with the modern rhythmic elements Zenon has worked into the arrangement, still maintains the integrity of its ageless cuban roots.
Track nine is Loueke's Mivakpola. Rich in dark colors and textures, the slow tempo create a gentle meditative mood. The unique fleshy sound of drums helps to create this mood, as does Lionel's lovely voice which is heard on this track. Free 3 is what could be considered a glimpse into the future of the band. Completely improvised, still the song feels guided by something which heads towards a promise of what will come next.