Drummer and composer Jeff Ballard makes his long overdue, much anticipated debut as a leader with the diverse and wide-ranging Time's Tales. A master of the trio format who anchors the renowned Brad Mehldau trio and is one-third of the inventive collective group FLY with Larry Grenadier and Mark Turner, Ballard here documents his own longstanding trio with guitarist Lionel Loueke and saxophonist Miguel Zenón.
With sounds ranging from forward-looking modern jazz to traditional African and Latin rhythms to heavy metal intensity, Time's Tales reflects the Jeff Ballard Trio's adventurous, multi-faceted identity, which has been honed on stages around the world since its formation in 2006. A landmark release in its own right, the album also arrives just as Ballard is celebrating an important benchmark in his own life, his 50th birthday.
"I'm getting into the middle of my years. So I think recording this project, with this band, makes a meaningful statement. It's a telling of my times up until this point."
A multi-faceted drummer with a keen interest in rhythms from Africa and Latin America, Ballard could have found no better partners for this endeavor than the Benin-born Loueke and Puerto Rico native Zenón. The two have imbibed the rhythms of their homelands and incorporated them into their own expansive sonic palettes, making them ideal foils for Ballard's polyrhythmic approach.
"It's where we meet, for sure," Ballard says. "Their sophistication and awareness of rhythm is so high. Lionel's listening to three different rhythms at the same time; Miguel can hear everything. I pick up something melodically from what they're playing and put it on the drums, and they do the reverse."
Both of Ballard's bandmates are among the most innovative and acclaimed musicians on the scene today. Loueke was mentored by Herbie Hancock and Terence Blanchard, and has worked with legends like Jack DeJohnette and Charlie Haden as well as peers such as Gretchen Parlato, Esperanza Spalding, and Robert Glasper. Zenón is a Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellow who has forged a distinctive blend of jazz and Latin American folkloric music. He's also a founding member of the SFJAZZ Collective and has worked with the likes of Bobby Hutcherson, Fred Hersch, David Sánchez, and Steve Coleman.
Born in Newport Beach, California, Jeff Ballard moved to New York after a three-year stint with the legendary Ray Charles, where he immediately began building a diverse resume with artists including Lou Donaldson, Buddy Montgomery, Kurt Rosenwinkel, and Mike Stern. In the late '90s he became a part of the Danilo Pérez Trio and Chick Corea's New Trio and Origin, and later joined Joshua Redman's groove-oriented Elastic Band. In 2003, Ballard formed the collective trio FLY with Larry Grenadier and Mark Turner, which has since released three critically acclaimed recordings.
Since 2005 he has been the drummer for the Brad Mehldau Trio, one of the most renowned groups in modern jazz. In addition to his trio, Ballard leads the ensemble Jeff Ballard Fairgrounds, which exists as a quintet featuring Eddie Henderson, Kevin Hays, Jeff Parker and Grenadier, and as a quartet with Loueke, pianist Tigran Hamasyan, and The Bad Plus bassist Reid Anderson on electronics.