Food (Iain Ballamy/Thomas Strønen)- Mercurial Balm
(ECM 370 9440. CD Review by Chris Parker)
The core duo of ‘Food’ (formed as a quartet in 1998, but reborn in 2006) is UK saxophonist Iain Ballamy and drummer/electronics artist Thomas Strønen, but they are joined, for live performances (and on this, their second ECM album), by various guests, so that their sound palette can be precisely formulated to meet the requirements of specific pieces.
Here, Ballamy’s sweet-toned, pure soprano and keening tenor, rising above the extraordinary textures and rhythms provided by Strønen’s drums and electronica, are joined variously by the guitars and electronics of Christian Fennesz and Eivind Aarset, the vocals and slide guitar of Prakash Sontakke and the piercing trumpet of Nils Petter Molvær.
The resulting album is simply ravishing: subtle, delicate, but always intense, even passionate, each track both instantly recognisable as a ‘Food’ product, but also crucially influenced by the musical sensibility of each individual guest. Strønen himself laid out the band’s core musical philosophy perfectly (in a recent interview with radio presenter Fiona Talkington): “[To] pare things down to what’s absolutely necessary. To express what you’re really trying to say without overplaying […] to just give a clue, small hints. Keeping everything open, but strong …” Soundscapes and sound sculpture are perhaps overused terms, especially in an ECM context, but both descriptions are entirely apt when applied to these ten pieces, recorded at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival, the Victoria National Jazz Scene club in Oslo, and at the famous Rainbow Studio.
Ballamy’s next ECM project is to feature the great English folk singer June Tabor and her regular pianist collaborator, Huw Warren, and Food are due to embark on a tour early in 2013; both, on the evidence of this stirring, hypnotic album, are mouth-watering prospects.