By Troy Collins
Trumpeter Dave Ballou delves into similarly spartan territory on Solo Trumpet. In addition to leading ten distinctive albums, Ballou has worked in a wide variety of settings, ranging from large ensembles like Either/Orchestra, John Hollenbeck’s Large Ensemble and the Satoko Fujii Orchestra, to small combos led by such artists as Dave Liebman, Denman Maroney and Tom Varner – but this is his first unaccompanied effort. Rather than following the standard conventions of melody, harmony and rhythm, Ballou commits to the investigation of new performing techniques and horn vocabularies, finding commonality with younger innovators like Peter Evans and Nate Wooley – one tune, “Wooley Warmth,” is even dedicated to the latter.
Eight of the ten performances are improvisations, recorded live in the studio with no edits or overdubbing; the remaining two pieces are based on notated material. The differences between the improvisations and the notated material are less noticeable than one might expect however – a testament to Ballou’s spontaneous compositional foresight. The pre-written numbers, “LAF” and “Another Fool,” are serene ballads underpinned by strong melodies, in contrast to the experimental abstractions that dominate the set, such as the muted vocal acrobatics of “Mumbling” or the altissimo theatrics of “Sheets.” Yet focused excursions like “Tightly” and the ten minute “Construct” exhibit a narrative logic that sounds pre-composed, lending the session an overall sense of stylistic unity. Taken as a whole, Solo Trumpet is a worthy addition to a rarefied field.