The Ottawa Citizen | Arts | Ottawa Jazz Festival Reviews
Asked and Answered: Ballantyne has got what it takes
by Peter Hum
Published: July 1, 2005

Although Jon Ballantyne has been a top-notch pianist for nearly half his life, the 41-year old New Yorker said that he's been mulling the question: "Have I got something original to offer?" At the Library and Archives Canada auditorium yesterday, the Saskatchewan native's quartet supplied the musical answer-a brash, audacious Yes.

Ballantyne was an A-list talent in his early 20s, winning a Juno Award for best jazz album in 1989. Since then, he's come into his own, adding an invigorating openness borrowed from the avant-garde to his substantial mainstream talents.

His distinctive group made knotty, challenging music that exploded in many directions. Rooted in Ballantyne's dense, harmonically rich piano work, the quartet delved into arcane and at times extreme material, mysterious one moment and shrieking the next.

Two covers-Ornette Coleman's When Will the Blues Leave? and Lennie Tristano's Lennie's Pennies- showed the group's freebopping approach on more familiar material.

But Ballantyne's originals were no less compelling. Scotch Neat and Go Local were continually surprising especially during reedman Douglas Yates twisting, urgent solos filled with twisting lines and impassioned cries. A slow truncated blues, Fred Blue's Lucky Thirteen, was simultaneously earthy and abstract.

Ballantyne is definitely onto something original and worthy of greater attention.