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Fly

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THE YEAR OF THE SNAKE

ECM (released April 2nd 2012)

Mark Turner : tenor saxophone

Larry Grenadier : double-bass

Jeff Ballard : drums

On its second ECM CD, recorded in New York last year and issued on the eve of a European tour, Fly continues to overturn and subvert the conventions of the sax/bass/drums trio. Mark Turner, Larry Grenadier and Jeff Ballard share freedom and responsibilities in a band of equals, which is never about soloist-and-accompaniment. Thoughtful rather than incantatory, yet with plenty of power in reserve, the trio’s music subtly interweaves improvisation and composition ; there are some deep conversations, and reflections on jazz history, taking place inside it. All three members contribute original tunes to the album “Year of the Snake”, exploring as Ballard says, “the compositional possibilities for the group, with its particular formation and personnel.” Threaded through the programme are a series of five spontaneously created vignettes, “The Western Lands.”

As Larry Grenadier has explained the group was formed “out of a desire to share all the knowledge that we’ve accumulated separately and bring it together in this bare-bones format”. Fly’s unique approach to the pianoless trio, with its “selfless, collaborative spirit” (to quote Time Out NY), and its eclectic yet tightly focussed music, has since become a reference for players and listeners alike.

Mark Turner’s saxophone lines are at once carefully constructed, inventive and exploratory, and span the full reach of the horn. His control of the tenor sax’s altissimo register is especially remarkable. So is the way in which his playing on “Year of the Snake” contrasts with the extroverted approach exhibited on the recently released “All Our Reasons” by the Billy Hart Quartet : Turner is clearly giving much thought to context. The work is not about transferring a single soloistic method from one band to another ; Fly has its own ensemble identity, well-served by each of the players. The saxophone’s simmering intensity beneath a seemingly cool surface is mirrored by Jeff Ballard’s drumming, as constantly changing rhythm patterns draw from a variety of drum traditions in jazz and beyond, emphasizing and stretching and dissolving the time. Larry Grenadier often engages with Turner into a lively play of roles, answering the tenor’s lines with counter melodies, or, increasingly, using the bow to play unisons with the sax. Grenadier’s arco playing “gives Fly an added dimension”, Jeff Ballard says. “I think the group sounds bigger now.”

It was Ballard who founded Fly, during a period when the drummer was working with Chick Corea. The obvious empathy between the trio’s players caught the attention of Brad Mehldau, who promptly engaged Grenadier and Ballard as his own rhythm section. For the last eight years, drummer and bassist have commuted between the two bands, further honing an already profound musical understanding.

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Mark Turner was born in Fairborn, Ohio in 1965, and moved with his family to California when he was four. He started playing clarinet at nine then later switched to alto, then tenor as a teenager. Since moving to New York, he has worked and recorded with musicians including Kurt Rosenwinkel, Dave Holland, Paul Motian, Brad Mehldau, John Patitucci, Dave Douglas, Billy Hart, Lee Konitz, Tomasz Stanko, the SF Jazz Collective and James Moody. Turner is on dozens of recordings as a sideman as well as five of his own recordings. Other ECM appearances include “New York Days” with Enrico Rava and “All Our Reasons” with Billy Hart, Ethan Iverson and Ben Street.

Larry Grenadier was born in San Francisco in 1966. He began playing bass when he was 11, and as a teenager worked in the Bay area with Joe Henderson, Stan Getz, Bobby Hutcherson among many others. After playing with Gary Burton’s band in 1990, he moved to New York City and played in the groups of Betty Carter, Joshua Redman, Danilo Perez, Tom Harrell, Joe Henderson, John Scofield, Pat Metheny, Paul Motian, Charles Lloyd and Brad Mehldau and recorded dozens of albums. Previous ECM credits include albums with Enrico Rava and Charles Lloyd.

Drummer/percussionist Jeff Ballard was born in Southern California in 1963 and grew up in Santa Cruz, where he began playing drums at age 14. He toured with Ray Charles from 1988 through 1990. Jeff moved to New York in 1990, and since then has played and/or recorded with Lou Donaldson, Chick Corea, Buddy Montgomery, Mike Stern, Danilo Perez, Pat Metheny, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Joshua Redman, Enrico Rava and many others. Recent recordings include the Brad Mehldau Trio “Live”, “Metheny/ Mehldau” and Joshua Redman’s “Momentum”.

Year of the Snake” was produced by Manfred Eicher at New York’s Avatar Studios in January 2011.

SKY & COUNTRY

"Fly is a new thing. The trio has the intimacy of a close up conversation and the depth of three free minds exploring and expanding on each other’s ideas. Uncluttered creativity."
Chick Corea

Sky & Country” is the ECM debut of the highly-regarded collective trio that drummer Jeff Ballard has memorably described as “an intimate band with teeth”. It’s a group that overturns expectations of its specific instrumentation. Modern jazz history is not short on highly charged sax/bass/drums trios, including those of Sonny Rollins, Albert Ayler and Sam Rivers, but Fly is differently cast. Equal rights for all instruments is one goal. The saxophone seeks parity with bass and drums, and its refusal to fill all the space with sound brings another set of tensions into play. As writer Nate Chinen observed in a JazzTimes article, “This is music that expands and contracts, effortlessly and dramatically and that balances the cerebral components of group improvisation with the more gut-level element of groove.” Or as Brad Meldau, who works regularly with Larry Grenadier and Jeff Ballard in his own trio has said : “Fly brings together elements in their playing that are often at odds with each other : On the one hand their music can be intellectually challenging - their compositions in particular can be rhythmically and harmonically dense. In spite of that, their music makes a strong emotional impact, felt through the deep rhythmic groove, and the organic way that these three musicians tell a story together.”

The group first surfaced as the Jeff Ballard Trio in 2000 on one track of the anthology “Originations”, curated by Chick Corea (Ballard was Chick’s drummer at the time) and became Fly with the release of their first album, on Savoy, in 2004. Association between the players however goes back much further. Grenadier and Ballard played music together as teenagers in California in the early 1980s and subsequently gigged together often. They both migrated to the US’s East coast in 1990 where they met Turner, and the three musicians have played in diverse permutations and contexts since then.

In Fly, Turner, Grenadier and Ballard all write material. Mark Turner : “Sometimes it’s the saxophone carrying the melody. Other times it’s the bass or drums. We spread out the frontline duties among us.” “Sky & Country” features three Ballard tunes, four by Turner, and two by Grenadier.

Mark Turner was born in Fairborn, Ohio in 1965, and moved with his family to California when he was four. He started playing clarinet at nine then later switched to alto, then tenor as a teenager. He studied art at Long Beach State and California College of Arts and Crafts, transferring to Berklee College of Music, and graduating in 1990. Since moving to New York he has worked and recorded with musicians including Kurt Rosenwinkel, Dave Holland, Paul Motian, Brad Mehldau, John Patitucci, Dave Douglas, Billy Hart, Lee Konitz and James Moody. Turner is on dozens of recordings as a sideman as well as five of his own recordings (“Yam Yam” on Criss Cross, “Mark Turner”, “In This World”, “Ballad Session” and “Dharma Days” on Warner Brothers). Both Turner and Larry Grenadier appeared on Enrico Rava’s “New York Days” album on ECM.

Turner’s elegant, abstract and thoughtful playing has been much remarked on by his contemporaries. Brad Meldau has noted that Mark “doesn’t court the theatrics associated with his instrument ... (He is) playing with a direct candor usually reserved for older players.” And the older players, too, have been taking note. Lee Konitz (in the book “Conversations on the Improviser’s Art”) : “I think Mark is a very serious contender. He’s really mastered the altissimo register of his instrument. That’s quite rare among tenor players ... He’s really playing lines up there as Warne Marsh could do – and Mark uses that register much more than Warne did.”

Larry Grenadier was born in San Francisco in 1966. He began playing bass when he was 11, and as a teenager worked in the Bay area with Joe Henderson, Stan Getz, Bobby Hutcherson among many others. He graduated from Stanford University in 1989 with a degree in English Literature. After playing with Gary Burton’s band in 1990, he moved to New York City and played in the groups of Betty Carter, Joshua Redman, Danilo Perez, Tom Harrell, Joe Henderson, John Scofield, Pat Metheny, Paul Motian, Charles Lloyd and Brad Mehldau and recorded dozens of albums. Previous ECM credits include the above-mentioned Rava disc and three albums with Charles Lloyd : “The Water Is Wide”, “Hyperion With Higgins” and “Lift Every Voice”. Enrico Rava recently described Larry’s playing as “present and focused in every moment”, and this is true too of the quite different demands of Fly where bass and sax frequently move in complementary orbits, developing ideas independently and interdependently.

Drummer/percussionist Jeff Ballard was born in Southern California in 1963 and grew up in Santa Cruz, where he began playing drums at age 14. He toured with Ray Charles from 1988 through 1990. Jeff moved to New York in 1990, and since then has played and/or recorded with Lou Donaldson, Chick Corea, Buddy Montgomery, Mike Stern, Danilo Perez, Pat Metheny, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Joshua Redman, Enrico Rava and very many others. Recent recordings include the Brad Mehldau Trio’s “Live” , “Metheny/ Mehldau” and Joshua Redman’s “Momentum”. “Sky & Country” is Ballard’s first ECM recording.

In interviews Ballard frequently speaks of drawing influence from the widest range of stylistic sources, acknowledging jazz masters from Joe Morello to Tony Williams but also citing the inspiration of South American, Afro-Cuban, Middle-Eastern and African drumming, and rhythms from everywhere...

Sky & Country” was recorded at New York’s Avatar Studio in February and June 2008.

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