JEFF BALLARD FAIRGROUNDS
The 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.
Led by Jeff Ballard – the virtuoso drummer who is also a keen-eared composer and close collaborator with the likes of Brad Mehldau, Mark Turner and Guilliermo Klein – the band initially involved a rotating cast (including Eddie Henderson, Larry Grenadier, Jeff Parker and Anders Christensen, plus such guests as Miguel Zénon, Tigran Hamasyan and Phil Grenadier); in that guise, the Fairgrounds played such hallowed halls as the Village Vanguard and around Europe. But the group has settled into a fresh quartet for a March 2015 tour of Europe and the recording of a live album, for release via OKeh/Sony. This core foursome features Ballard with guitarist-vocalist Lionel Loueke, keyboardist-vocalist Kevin Hays and Reid Anderson on electronics. This potent combination consists of musicians who revere the past while realizing that art is always made in the present tense; they grew up versed in deep traditions – with Ballard, for instance, earning his stripes early on as youthful stickman for Ray Charles – but are keen to blur boundaries between genres. Jazz, rock, electronica and West African music all figure into the shape-shifting, cross-cultural sound of the Jeff Ballard Fairgrounds.
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.”
For Ballard, the very contemporary sonic profile and fluid membership ideal was inspired, in part, by Jack DeJohnette’s Special Edition, a groundbreaking if now underrated group of the 1980s. Along with being led by a great drummer, that band engaged with pop and world music, cutting-edge technology and deep tradition, form and fluidity. “I see the Fairgrounds as something that’s very open and full of possibilities,” Ballard explains. “But what I want this music to keep in touch with, no matter the fluctuations and experimentation, is structure and lyricism, with all four of us having a mind to create music that’s tangible and accessible even as we have free rein. That said, there can be a tendency today for musicians to be too polite – and that’s never what I want.
The music shouldn’t digress, but it should be bold. I want us to make something organic and real – music you can feel, that you can almost touch.”
Published on 11 January 2019