Ballantyne’s music ‘pours out of pure joy’

Star Phoenix, June, 2005.
By: Joanne Paulson
SP Features Editor

The first thing you notice is the hands, athletically flying over the keys, reflected in the black lacquer of the piano.The second thing you notice about Jon Ballantyne, Saskatoon son and New York jazzman, is that his music pours out of pure joy. His head grooving, his leg stomping, his big smile conducting the band, Ballantyne is clearly having the most wonderful time.
He came home to play the jazz festival Saturday night at the Broadway Theatre, mainly showcasing his own compositions in a fascinating but aurally demanding concert.
There’s a touch of Oscar Peterson in there, in the way Ballantyne plays vast numbers of notes…fast. There’s a barrelhouse presence in the hands, which seem to float until they land with precision on a big chord. There is also gentility in the arpeggios, and something reminiscent of Beethoven in the big finishes.
But Ballantyne has combined his influences into a style of his own, a progressive jazz expression appreciated by major musicians, judging by the makeup of his band, On bass was Boris Kozlov, who plays an instrument once owned by Charles Mingus. On sax was Douglas Yates, who has played with big-timers like Elvis Costello. On drums was Jeffrey Hirshfield, who has also hit the skins for jazz luminaries.
Yates also played the bass clarinet, and amazing instrument that came down to his knees. The most melodic song of the evening, Anne’s Dream, opened with deep sustained bass from Kozlov and rich notes from the clarinet. Ballantyne then came in with beautiful arpeggios, in a song that was evocative of moody dreams.
Scotch Neat was smoky, smooth tune, with froggy low notes from the bass clarinet. Go Local or Go Loco was crazily up-tempo, a piece about being caught in the thrumming New York subway.
Some of the pieces were less obviously structured and meant for serious fans of progressive modern jazz. Still, it was fascinating concert that displayed the talents of four brilliant musicians.