The trio format has been Brad Mehldau’s preferred musical unit for much of his performing and recording career. The first Brad Mehldau Trio album, and the first in the Art of the Trio series, came out in 1996.
Since the 2005 release, Day Is Done, Jeff's been forging ahead with the trio, adding to the unique and exclusive character which also happens to be the result of extensive playing and relentless dedication. Whether it's the trust between the players or the pure joy of unregulated musical experimentation, the art of this collective is to set new standards while maintaining a harmonious sense of familiarity. The reputable status reached through the musicianship, the compositions and the overall quality of the Brad Mehldau Trio, hasn't in any way led to an artistic stagnation or comfort-decline. Instead, the musical conversation within the group seems to be encountering repetitive growth spurts, resulting in a steady flow of new and exciting music. Filled with progressive energy, also partially guided by a natural embrace of artistic reinvention, the trio sets a new standard again and again.
With the release of "Seymour Reads The Constitution" Mehldau, Grenadier and Ballard are at it again, pushing the envelope of what it means to play within a trio ensemble. DownBeat Magazine goes as far as suggesting that the albums performance of "Spiral" "is strong enough that it might set a new bar for what counts as The Art of the Trio".
There's never a dull moment when it comes to the joy and inspiration represented by this truly legendary formation. Stay tuned for more!
Jeff Ballard Fairgrounds makes music that feels like the 21st century – open, fluid and ever-developing, a sound informed by jazz but truly coming to life where worlds collide: acoustic and electric, swinging and ambient, analog and digital, accessible and experimental. The foursome features Ballard with guitarist-vocalist Lionel Loueke, keyboardist-vocalist Kevin Hays and Reid Anderson on electronics. Additional players include Mark Turner, Pete Rende and Chris Cheek, the latter of which will be part of the current tour line up.
Musically diverse, sometimes very bold and unexpected, Jeff Ballard Fairgrounds does not have a fixed or pre-established repertoire, the music mostly evolves from sound inspirations brought in by Ballard and his companions, taking on different forms as the ideas evolve and expand. A group with an unusual timbre drawing from their individual and combined strength.
Referring to the name of the band, Ballard says: “You know how you go to the fairgrounds for an amusement park or a festival, and there are all these rides and games – all this cool, fun stuff happening? That, to me, is like the sound of this band, the Fairgrounds. There are all these different personalities in the group that enable the music to go in different directions, often turning on a dime. It sounds like a thrill ride to me.”
The debut album is set for release in January 2019. Sign up for Jeff's mailing list to keep track of announcements and tour dates.
Keeping with the formula Ballard prefers using with his groups, this trio with guitarist Lionel Loueke and saxophonist Chris Cheek continues to play from a highly diverse repertoire of music which contains both originals and covers. From something like the high energy rock and roll song ELEPHANTS by Queens Of The Stone Age or the blues rock tune Blinded By Love by Johnny Winter, to the 1930’s ballad I Let A Tear Fall In The River, performed by Ella Fitzgerald and Chick Webb Orchestra. Tunes with west African, Caribbean, and South American sensibilities to straight ahead Bebop heads, this band’s music is high-level free-wheeling fun. Listening to the band’s music is like an adventurous trip on the wide open road. They investigate it all their musical surroundings.
This trio has a sound that is an equal mixture of electric and acoustic. Cheek is one of the early explorers of combining electronics with the saxophone, electronically enhancing the sound in a variety of ways combined with the sax. Apart from having a uniquely beautiful sound acoustically on the tenor, which is immediately identifiable, he can make the tenor’s effected sounds be like a wha wha guitar or bass guitar. He can create something which sounds like an electronic orchestra or big band.
Cheek’s sonic palette and musicality balances perfectly with Lionel Loueke’s multi-directional tastes and love of experimentation. Loueke’s sounds and music are uniquely his own. He's built his bank of sonics and repertoire of songs over the course of his life. From Benin to NY, traveling and playing all kinds of music. He makes sounds ranging from a simple acoustic guitar playing a bossa nova to something which sounds like a raging elephant stomping through the jungle. Lionel is comfortable playing a melody like a rare electronic birdsong, or a classic Charlie Parker bebop line, to a Jimi Hendrix inspired distortion warp. Loueke’s versatility and musical sensitivity is of the highest order.
The rapport between players is extraordinary. Playful, intelligent, and risky playing. The group can go anywhere musically because of their shared knowledge and respect for traditions found in so many kinds of music. The Adventurous spirit they bring, the enjoyment towards each other’s playing, their common respect and great depth of musical understanding, the love that they share towards song and groovy beats is how one might best try to describe this band’s essence.
In the era of individual “star” instrumentalists, the idea of a truly collective trio can be a difficult concept to fathom. Yet collectivism is what the FLY trio strives for; and collectivity is what they so unabashedly and unquestionably achieve. Ballard, Grenadier and Turner represent three rather distinct musical personalities- simultaneously complimentary and contrasting –who have created a cohesive unit that expresses each part while creating an uniquely realized whole. In other words, they celebrate the group, without sacrificing the individual.
“FLY is progressively bringing together many musical elements, traditions, histories and mysteries,” says Turner. “Multiplicity is presented under an unassuming hat. Meaning, we are working toward saying it all without saying it all, expressing complexity by simplicity. Musically speaking, we are creating songs that can be heard on a number of levels and from a variety of different viewpoints.”
Although, drummer Jeff Ballard, bassist Larry Grenadier and tenor saxophonist Mark Turner have individually charted very distinct and highly successful musical careers—one, both or all have graced the performances and recordings of Chick Corea, Joshua Redman, Brad Mehldau, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Pat Metheny, Charles Lloyd, to name just a few -- the formation of the trio seems, in retrospect almost inevitable. FLY needed to happen.