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Red Balloon by Denominators

This is an interesting set by an unusual trio. Denominators appear to be a relatively new group-certainly this is their first recording. More details are hard to find as neither the CD nor their web site contain much useful information. It appears that the trio is from New York, and that its members come from a variety of backgrounds including jazz, classical and folk traditions, with special reference, we are told, to West Africa and Brazil. A curious contradiction is that the recording is listed under Free Jazz, or modern jazz/free improvisation, in various sites, but much of it appears to be through-composed. This is suggested by an All About Jazz review of their concert at the Brooklyn Conservatory in which Ernest Barteldes writes: "On stage, the group seemed to be extremely structured. Neither Radley nor Gentile took their eyes off the sheet music during the entire gig, and the feel was more of a classical music event than a jazz concert."

This can be deceptive. I can recall the Chick Corea/Steve Kujala recording Voyage being criticized as being all written until Corea confirmed to me that it was virtually all improvised! In this case, it is fair to say that there is a lot of written material in these performances, but the relationship between written and improvised material is hard to determine.

Such considerations are, of course, irrelevant in the overall scheme of things, outside of a reviewers responsibility to convey some idea of the music. Suffice to say that the genre reflects the musician's declared backgrounds, a mixture of jazz, classical, and folk, with a fair dash of whimsy. The emphasis is on the mixture; the various influences are sublimated to an overall group sound, with the folk elements softening the more stark soundscapes normally associated with Free Jazz.

Several reviewers have mentioned that the group might sound better with a bass player. I tend to agree with them. The bass is such an important part of any jazz ensemble and I can imagine how someone like Gary Peacock or Dave Holland could add to the sound. As it is, Radley has to supply some bass lines as well as the harmonic textures, a tough trick when he is soloing. But that appears to be the group's choice. "Asked why they don't have a bass player," writes Barteldes, "Schneider just said that they began playing together and felt comfortable with the sound. ‘This is the band,' he told us."

Readers who enjoy the unconventional may well enjoy this recording.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Denominators
  • CD Title: Red Balloon
  • Genre: Contemporary Jazz / Modern
  • Year Released: 2005
  • Record Label: Denominators
  • Musicians: Michel Gentile (flute), Nate Radley (guitar), Roland Schneider (drums)
  • Rating: Two Stars
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