Ballantyne at ease back home

The Star Phoenix

By: Jeanette Stewart

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Back at home at The Bassment, Saskatoon-born Jon Ballantyne played to an intimate and appreciative audience in the venue's first Saskatchewan Jazz Festival show.

Ballantyne seemed open and at ease among the respectful home town crowd, many of whom have likely watched the artist perform there for much of his life. He displayed the incredible craftsmanship that has led to the now Manhattan-based jazz pianist locking down two Junos the most recent netted in an April visit to Saskatoon.

Illustrating this was the CBC's Garth Materie's introduction, curtailing a long speech to say: "I realized, this is the one room in the city where all I have to say is - Fred's boy Jon, he's done real good.'" Real good is right. Ballantyne opened up with no further ado, locking into a set that mixed his original compositions with jazz standards.

Simply grinning and bowing to the audience between each song, Ballantyne chose to let the piano "do the talking," comfortable in the familiarity of the crowd as he indulged them in more than an hour of performance.

His hands float high above the keys, touching down deftly to make the instrument respond to his command. Ballantyne can pull the music out of his instrument while seeming to only brush the keys.

He displayed the restraint needed to play slowly and quietly, hands skimming the keys confidently in long sustained runs up and down the piano. His embellishments spare and well-placed, Ballantyne focused on crafting tonal ideas and beautiful lyrical passages. Yet at times he was also brash in his obvious command of the piano, pulling out pulsing bass line and utilizing the instrument to its full potential in solo performance. Without his usual backing quartet, he was still able to create the interesting dialogue usually provided by several instruments.

Ballantyne closed with a punch, leaving the audience with his version of Thelonious Monk's Mysterioso. Lightning quick, his right hand ripped up and down the keyboard in tight chromatic lines as his left hand provided the rolling bass.

The Bassment proved a great venue to showcase Ballantyne's skill. The audience sat only feet away from the piano's polished gleam, watching his hands skim over his instrument as a single drop of sweat formed at his temple. Dim lighting and the flicker of candlelight created a quiet ambiance and intimacy. Not only could you hear Ballantyne breathing in tandem with his phrasing, but the audience reaction was also audible. Along with the clinking ice in glasses and the popping of blister packs of gum came one or two appreciative "wows" after almost every piece.