Restless, careening and dense with information, it’s hard to imagine bebop developing anywhere other than New York City. Most contemporary jazz continues to reflect the environment of that hub, teeming with intricate grooves and maniacal precision. Guitarist- composer Charlie Ballantine, on the other hand, hails from Indiana. His
new trio recording, Cold Coffee, conveys a Midwestern openness with relaxed intensity.
In the vein of fellow guitarists like John Scofield, Bill Frisell and Julian Lage, Ballantine reconciles his educational background in jazz with the stylistic background of his instrument. He approaches the gratifying tonal and harmonic language of rock/roots with the groove, ambition and improvisational focus of a jazz musician. The title track, a baroque march, illustrates Ballantine’s gift for crafting lyrical, dynamic compositions from a familiar color palette. “Zani” and “Moon City,” tuneful slow grooves wet with nostalgia, also focus on phrasing and harmonic rhythm rather than the complexity of individual harmonies. The guitarist’s solos, both patient and cavalier, capitalize on the earnest warmth within progressions that are more inviting than they are demanding.
In line with his fusion tendencies, Ballantine also subverts the devout modesty of jazz guitar’s default tone (blunt warmth). His Telecaster’s sharp attack trails rich waves of reverb and delay. When paired with Ballantine’s feel-oriented approach to phrasing, this creates the paradoxical effect of being both expansive and intimate — an oceanic
lushness that conjures depth without obscuring the nuances of the guitarist’s touch.
Drummer Chris Parker also errs toward the atmospheric, his liberal use of cymbals accentuating the spaciousness of Ballantine’s sustained voicings, and bassist Jesse Wittman makes perfect use of this space. Hip, driving and deceptively funky, Wittman’s grooves on the upright weave together nimble melodies and resonant low notes that curl with overtones. Together, the trio delivers a tasteful, sentimental and direct batch of tunes — perfect for a summer evening.— Asher Wolf
Indianapolis-born jazz guitarist/composer Charlie Ballantine has a special relationship with American music of all kinds: jazz, folk, the blues (his father was a blues guitarist, providing some of Ballantine's earliest musical memories) and contemporary rock. His previous album Life Is Brief: The Music Of Bob Dylan (Green Mind Records, 2018) made the inspiration outside of jazz clear, and previous covers had included songs by Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits and the Pixies.
This album—a trio with long-time band-mates bassist Jesse Wittman and drummer Chris Parker—returns to mainly Ballantine originals. "Strange Idea" opens the set with a jagged theme that may not be truly strange, but it certainly is a departure from the Americana flavor of many of Ballantine's compositions. The band develops the theme into a massive, over-driven climax. The title tune continues a bit of that angular feeling, also offering Wittman a fine solo bass spotlight. Ballantine abandoned an attempt at an all-standards album to follow Life Is Brief, but two standards made it onto this program.
"My One and Only Love" became known from Frank Sinatra's version; it later became a tenor saxophone vehicle for players including Ben Webster, John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. After a lyrical, rubato treatment of the tune the arrangement veers into electronic territory with backwards guitar accompaniment (but introduced in a way that seems completely natural). "East of the Sun (and West of the Moon)" was again recorded by Frank Sinatra (with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra), then by singer Sarah Vaughan, alto saxophonist Charlie Parker and many others. The trio's upbeat rendition provides ample demonstration of their ability to swing.
"Moon City" ends the album with loops riding on top of the haunting chordal vamp that underlies the whole song. A fitting conclusion to a program that smoothly integrates bebop-based small group jazz, contemporary electric guitar techniques and creative composition. The Bob Dylan tribute brought Charlie Ballantine some much-deserved attention, but his own music is just as worthy of notice.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
Vintage Guitar Magazine
Befitting a guitarist from America's heartland, Charlie Ballantine mixes jazz, folk-rock, surf/instro, blues, pop, and country into a simmering pot of guitar sound and style. His instrumental work is beautiful and complex, ranging from melodic journeys to raging heavier sounds. Charlie's latest CD is "Where Is My Mind?", a strong album that marks him as a young player to watch.
All About Jaz
Indianapolis-based guitarist/composer Charlie Ballantinecontinues on the eclectic path forged on Providence (Self Produced, 2016) on Where Is My Mind?, his third self-produced outing as a leader. Ballantine is again joined by alto saxophonist/flutist Amanda Gardier, with a new rhythm section of bassist Jessie Whittman and drummer Jay Tibbitts. In the absence of a keyboard there is even more emphasis on the guitar. It's all twangy Americana on openers "Real Things" and "Jones"—Gardier doesn't join in until the last part of "Real Things," and "Jones" is a trio. So is "Hallways," which mixes swing with atmospheric loops and a bass solo.
The title tune—which is indeed a Pixies cover—opens with some warped electronic sounds before launching into the tune proper. Ballantine and Gardier take turns playing the tune and the accompaniment pattern, and while the leader maintains a rock feel even while soloing, there are saxophone solos that effectively overlay an overtly jazz approach. "Futuretown" goes for freedom and grunge in equal measure: Ballantine sounds like a different guitarist on it. Sun Kil Moon's "Carissa" is a dark ride with the lyrics, but without them it becomes a delicate waltz ballad. It includes creative electronic processing on the flute, different enough that it may not even be identifiable at first listen.
The "Where Is My Mind?" reprise is a short blast of electronic dub. The traditional tune "Wayfaring Stranger" strays closest to Bill Frisell territory (one of Ballantine's avowed major influences). It's a potent blend of looping with acoustic and electric guitars, another effective example of the subtle guitar layering that characterizes much of the album. "The Last One" closes the set, a brief, melancholy unplanned collective improvisation at the end of a night of recording. It's a fitting conclusion to an album that blends spontaneity with meticulous post-production, and shows little regard for stylistic categories: jazz, rock and folk music peacefully coexist in Charlie Ballantine's world.
The acclaimed Indianapolis guitarist displays a fluid sense of melody throughout his third full-length album, seamlessly cross-stitching elements of jazz, pop and Americana across original instrumentals like “Real Things” and the stormy “Futuretown.” In that, he echoes the style and sometimes the tone of avowed hero Bill Frisell. The title track, a jazz-lite twist on the Pixies, is less affecting than a flowing rendition of Sun Kil Moon’s “Carissa” and a reading of the traditional “Wayfaring Stranger” that amplifies its melancholy drama. RIYL Bill Frisell and Snuffy Walden. charlieballantine.com
Ballantine is up-front about the fact that Bill Frisell is one of his chief influences. On Where is My Mind?Ballantine covers musical territory that – to my way of thinking, at least – is far more interesting that Frisell’s more recent low-key efforts. Perhaps it’s not fashionable to say so in 2017, but in his guitar work I hear some of Mark Knopfler’s lyricism. His lineup – guitar, bass, drums and sax/flute – gives the music a nice, unprocessed feel that one suspects is a good document of how he sounds live onstage. His leads are exceedingly melodic, too.
Guitarist Ballantine fronts a quartet incorporating alto sax as well as a rhythm section.
Heavy on the reverb, he has a delicious sound. Occasionally doubling himself, acoustic and electric guitar, and accented by Amanda Gardier's charmingly direct solos on alto and flute, there is that Bill Frisell/Larry Coryell Americana vibe going on here. But Ballantine has his own thing,which sounds like a slinky slowly working it's way down the stairs. I particularly like the uptempo "Hallways" driven by the deft bass work of Jesse Wittman and the telegraphing subliminal messaging from drummer Jay Tibbits. Other highlights include the title cut, the Pixies masterpiece ,"Where Is My Mind" with a backward masking intro and bowed bass (I think...it could be an effect),"Carissa" a mid tempo rock song with a captivating melody , "Wayfaring Stranger" and the simple and pure fragment, " The Last One"
Vintage Guitar Magazine
While he's often considered a jazz guitarist, Ballantine's second record here shows other influences as well, as he draws on all types of American music. Besides great chops being on display, take notice of his compositional skills. He should stay at the top of the heap for a long time if he can keep writing like this.
Charlie Ballantine, "Providence"
In a nutshell: “Providence” is a monster that sneaks up on a listener in the best way. Guitarist Charlie Ballantine chooses style over bombast throughout this nine-song collection of instrumentals. But you won’t overlook his skills or the talents of alto saxophone player Amanda Gardier. The album suggests a jam session starring Derek Trucks and King Curtis.
Fan finder: As an Indianapolis guitarist, Ballantine does justice to the legacy of jazz icon Wes Montgomery. Fans of Buddy Guy’s versatility will discover plenty to like on “Providence,” which also should appeal to jam-band enthusiasts.
That's a keeper: Built on a foundation of arpeggios, the song “Conundrum” allows Ballantine to flex his technical prowess. Initially sly, “Conundrum” escalates to house-rocking blues punctuated by Josh Roberts’ short-burst percussion. Sax player Gardier arrives to level everything out.
Didn't see it coming: The album includes renditions of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and Tom Waits’ “Temptation.” Although a “Hallelujah” cover is far from rare, there’s value in hearing Gardier’s saxophone rather than countless vocal interpretations. For “Temptation,” Ballantine and his supporting cast refine Waits’ rumba-klezmer hybrid to a pinpoint exploration of the song’s melody.
The verdict: Ballantine shows mastery across the board: comfortable and relaxed (“Old Hammer”), measured and meditative (“Eyes Closed”), muscular and gnarled (“Roads,” a descendant of Eric Clapton’s “Layla” that showcases organ player Josh Espinoza). For more information, visit CharlieBallantine.com.
Blinded By Sound
While band leader Charlie Ballantine went a more traditional jazz route on his 2015 debut, Green, he has allowed more styles to permeate his second release, Providence. In doing so, Ballantine manages to stay close to his roots while exploring new territory sonically. Backed by a crack band, including Amanda Gardier on saxophone, Josh Espinoza on organ, Conner Green on bass and Josh Roberts on drums, Providence is an exciting listen that showcases these former Indiana University students' considerable chops.
The album mixes six Ballantine originals with three well-chosen covers. "Old Hammer" starts things off with a crackling sound, like an old record player, before the band locks into a tight, swampy groove. Ballantine's playing is laid back and bluesy here, serving the song and Espinoza delivers a killer organ solo on this strong opener. The title track showcases some melodic playing and fantastic drumming from Roberts. Ballantine allows himself to turn loose a bit more here, but still stays within the song, allowing his excellent band to share the spotlight.
On Stephen Foster's "Gentle Lana Clare," Ballantine shows off some intricate finger picking with drums to match from Roberts. Roberts proves a great foil for Ballantine throughout. Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah" has seemingly been covered to death, but the group turns in an emotional reading nonetheless. Gardier shows off her considerable range on sax for the song's first half before giving way to Ballantine midway through. The song builds to a powerful ending as the group works hard to make this song their own.
Ballantine takes a rock turn on the blistering "Roads." The song features a heavy riff and Ballantine's playing is reminiscent of Mick Taylor on "Can't You Hear Me Knocking." Espinoza gives a scorching organ solo on this standout track. The album ends on an optimistic note with the gospel-tinged "Hopeful Mind." Espinoza and Gardier give great performances on this uplifting closer.
On Providence, Ballantine starts out with a strong jazz foundation and then adds layers of other music upon it. The results are an exciting mix of music both familiar and new and show that there was no sophomore slump for Ballantine.
Indiana Guitarist Charlie Ballantine Reaches a State of Divine "Providence"
Indiana guitarist/composer Charlie Ballantine, 26, is one of those new breed of guitarists unafraid of incorporating non-jazz into his jazz. So like two of his biggest influences, Bill Frisell and John Scofield, he's widened his palette to include rock, tango, funk, atmospheric instrumental pop and blues. He's not as static as those two aforementioned guitar heroes. He's alternately playful and intense on his self-released Providence, the follow-up to his Green debut last year.
Constantly gigging at the Indianapolis Jazz Kitchen with his quintet of alto saxophonist Amanda Gardier, organist Josh Espinoza, bassist Conner Green and drummer Josh Roberts, Ballantine's guitar--often laced with a fine gauze of fuzz--has meshed and intertwined almost telepathically with his mates on Providence. He's also incorporated a little of that Nashville skyline of Chet Atkins crossed with that old Kentucky colonel Merle Travis. But it's Wes Montgomery whom he mostly emulates. And when you're 26, emulation is the sincerest way to find your own style.
Ballantine is smart enough to pick the kind of material that will most successfully accent his strengths. Thus, when he wraps his fingers around his fretboard on such seemingly diametrically opposed tunes as "Temptation" by Tom Waits, "Gentle Lena Clare" by Stephen Foster [1826-1864] and "Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen, somewhat of a symmetry is created by his doodling over his band's abject tightness.
Coming out of Indiana University as they all did, these five, as mentioned, are so attuned to each other's individualistic tics, breaths, stops, rests, syncopated surprises and rapid flurries, that they adapt to the situation on the fly to make the mix a five-limbed living organism. Ultimately, it's refreshing and satisfying, providing the type of non-stop action that only makes you want to repeat the experience...over and over again.
Sea Of Tranquility
Here is another guitar blues/jazz album, this one titled Providence, the sophomore effort from Indianapolis based guitarist Charlie Ballantine. Rounding out the rest of the band are Amanda Gardier (alto saxophone), Josh Espinoza (organ), Conner Green (bass) and Josh Roberts (drums).
The band has the ability to hit on some excellent blues stylings as in the slow burning guitar dominated "Conundrum" and the organic sounding "Old Hammer", a fine way to begin the album. The hard hitting "Roads" also demonstrates this five piece's penchant for rougher edges although some softer moments do well to smooth out the sound. The organ in particular is used quite prominently. Ballantine's guitar tone soars with a ferocious bite that will surely satisfy the grittiest of blues fans. On the pretty "Hallelujah" and the serene "Gentle Lena Clare" the guitarist shows his softer side, very melodic and just a little sorrowful with a hint of wistfulness amongst his easy flowing notes. The sax solo on "Hallelujah" is absolutely gorgeous.
Ballantine and his band have made a real nice instrumental jazz/blues album that is just plain good for the soul. Hopefully he and his band will gain more recognition as they are very talented players and more importantly have written some fine tunes. Please, do yourself a favour and give this one a listen. Independent artists such as Ballantine deserve your support.
George W. Harris
Charlie Ballantine teams up with Amanda Gardier/as, Josh Espinoza/org, Conner Green/b and Josh Roberts/dr for some laid back and relaxed moods. Some rural electric guitar gets easy on”Old Hammer” and Gardier’s tender alto teams with some easy picking and grinning on the title tarack. Strumming strings and effects team up with “Temptation” and a misty organ creates impressionistic moods on “Conundrum.” Except for the rocky “Roads” the pace is contemplative with pastels, suitable for framing.
Gapplegate Guitar Blog
Some albums just lay out naturally and speak to us without holding back but also with a kind of natural directness. That is so of electric guitarist Charlie Ballantine's album Providence (self-released). It's a set of (mostly?) originals that set Charlie's bluesy-folksy electric guitar against a nicely put-together group with Amanda Gardner on alto, Josh Espinosa on organ, Conner Green on bass and Josh Roberts on drums.
There is a sort of country-pie rural flavor to the music that might remind you a little of early Pat Metheny but not exactly. Charlie solos nicely in a very laid-back way that is not out to wow you with chops though there is evidence of all that. No, he wants to build moody, bluesy edifices of sound, to capture a shifting dynamic that puts forward its particular, relaxed, local kind of significant approach.
It's a sort of music that decidedly is more rock-jazzish than smooth, that floats into your listening mind without a lot of sweat and struggle, and so should appeal to a broad swath of audiences without sacrificing artistic merit.
I like it. It just hangs there for you like a good painting. It does not go out of its way to call attention to itself, yet it is there to examine in some detail should you be so inclined. It's mood music for mood music more than some stated activity. And it pleases without pandering.
Shoot it on and you'll find yourself drifting in a very nice way.
Indianapolis-based guitarist Charlie Ballantine leads his working quintet through a diverse set of six originals and three unique covers, none of them jazz standards. Ballantine credits guitarists Bill Frisell and John Scofield as major influences, but shows off his influences outside of jazz with the funk of opener "Old Hammer" and the distorted blues-rocker "Roads," and plays a gentle fingerstyle arrangement of Stephen Foster's "Gentle Lana Clare" (in a trio with bass and drums). The other covers are Leonard Cohen's modern anthem "Hallelujah" and Tom Waits' "Temptation." He is ably assisted by saxophonist Amanda Gardier, organist Joshua Espinoza, bassist Conner Green and drummer Josh Roberts, all former classmates at Indiana University.
Providence, Charlie Ballantine’s second album in two years, will be released May 6 at the Jazz Kitchen. Providence takes a step forward from Ballantine’s extraordinary first album, Green.
As a guitarist, Ballantine commands with quiet certainty, as a composer he invites close attention. In preparation for the release of Providence I asked Charlie to talk about his compositional and performance approach and direction.
“What I really wanted to expand on with Providence was exploring more of my influences outside of the traditional jazz world. When I released my first album Green I was fresh out of music school so there were all these walls built up around me as far as songwriting and improvising went. I had a lot of uncertainty regarding things like ‘Is this song too simple?’ and ‘Does this solo have enough of the jazz language in it?’ Then I realized that all these amazing concepts I learned in school and all the great solos I transcribed were just guidelines to help in the process of finding my own voice and the way in which I used this information is up to me. “
Ballantine’s musical interests as a guitar player “span everywhere from Jerry Garcia to Wes Montgomery to more contemporary guitarists like Bill Frisell.” He adds, “I think this is very common in most guitar players as well as most listeners. So, one of my goals as a musician is to create a sound that embodies a wide variety of styles while still having a sense of singularity. I think every musician who really goes after this has a sound that they hear in their head and never quite reach because as we listen to more music and experience different things it is ever evolving. That’s what keeps it all going.”
Ballantine was Bloomington-based as a student at the IU Jacobs School of Music studying under Corey Christiansen and the late David Baker. He was making the rounds of venues in Bloomington as a player earning a following. I asked how the move affected him.
“I feel like the biggest change in moving from Bloomington to Indianapolis has been the opportunity to play with so many different kinds of musicians. Whether it be a folk singer at a coffee shop or a fusion band at the Jazz Kitchen I’ve loved all of them. It’s easy to look at music as having some sort of hierarchy but the more I do this and the more I play with different people it becomes more and more apparent that that simply does not exist. We are all just different players. Indianapolis has opened me up to a lot.”
“This album embodies every kind of music I have grown to love from blues, jazz, country and folk music,” Ballantine says of the May 6 show. “The band — once again including Alto saxophonist Amanda Gardier, and introducing organist, Josh Espinoza; bassist Conner Green and on drums Josh Roberts — truly put their hearts into it and I couldn’t be more proud of the work we’ve done. I wanted to create music that touches people in the way that so many songs and artists have touched me over the years. In a way this is an attempt to give that feeling back.”
Listening to an advance copy of Providence, I am struck by its interlacing of boldness and sensitivity. It is simultaneously atmospheric and personal, opening with “Old Hammer,” a tone poem taking you on a cityscape walk with a personality of immediate consequence. You meet the neighbors and strangers, all your senses engaged. Guitar doodling opens “Providence” with a hint of bossa nova sliding into a ballad with a pas de deus between guitar and alto sax, growing into a melding and blending of organ, drums and bass. “Eyes Closed” is dreaminess growing into ecstasy — it is shape-shifting, tempo change driven. “Gentle Lena Clare” is pure poetry — a sound-bite Ken Burns would snatch up for a documentary.
Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” continues the anthem mode and is a lovely bridge into “Roads” with its feel of marching along a landscape both familiar and challenging. The feel of Beethoven underlies the guitar taking a role as commentator and the organ lending steadiness, but ultimately it’s everyone on their own to meet up at the desired destination. The band embraces Tom Waits’ "Temptation" with its driving force as a segue to the set up for "Conundrum" opening with alto sax and drums leading into guitar with everyone having a go at improvisational riffs until consensus prevails. The expansive, cinematic "Hopeful Mind" is a perfect closing, pushing me to suggest that this composition is a perfect companion to the Grand Canyon exhibit currently up at the Eiteljorg Museum. How lovely, I conjecture, to have Charlie Ballantine and his Providence cohorts playing on-site.
Providence, the sophomore album from Indianapolis-based guitarist Charlie Ballantine due for release on May 6, is another clear indication that fine jazz isn’t limited only to the usual places. Ballantine, named Indianapolis’ “Best Jazz Musician” of 2015 by NUVO Magazine, has put together a powerful set of music emphasizing the diversity of his artistic palate, but focused on this overriding belief in the spiritual nature of art.
On his Facebook page, Ballantine lists a quotation from the great Bill Evans as his favorite quote which could well stand as a motto for this new album: “My creed for art in general is that it should enrich the soul; it should teach spirituality by showing a person a portion of himself that he would not discover otherwise, a part of yourself you never knew existed.” I mean he does call the album Providence for a reason. In a sense the nine-track set is an illustration of the guitarist’s faith in the Evans creed.
Ballantine is working with a quartet featuring saxophonist Amanda Gardier, organist Josh Espinoza, bassist Conner Green and drummer Josh Roberts.
Six of the album tracks are original compositions. There are blues-based pieces like his rocking “Roads” and “Conundrum.” There is a more overtly spiritual piece like the gospel flavored “Hopeful Mind.” There is some old style funk on the opening number, “Old Hammer.” “Eyes Closed” is a haunting, moody melody, while the title tune offers a brighter horizon.
The covers are a short version, a kind of folksy interlude perhaps, of Stephen Foster’s “Gentle Lena Clare,” a dark vision of Tom Waits’ “Temptation,” and an elegant version of the Leonard Cohen classic, “Hallelujah.” This last features some fine alto sax work from Gardier, who also adds some mean soprano sax to “Hopeful Mind.” There is a version of “Hallelujah” available on YouTube.
Indianapolis, of course is no stranger to great guitarists. Following in the footsteps of an icon like Wes Montgomery, is a daunting prospect. Charlie Ballantine has bravely taken the first of those footsteps. One can only wish him well.
CHARLIE BALLANTINE//Providence: The mash up influence is everywhere. The hot, young guitarist from Indian-noplace might have been turned on by Wes but he's had his head turned by Scoey and Frisell and delivers a greater dose of Texas funk than he might even realize. No smooth jazz or post bop for this cat, he's going his own way with a head turning sound and vibe that grabs you early and doesn't let go. The road to the top might be harder than it used to be, but on playing alone, Ballantine is up for the challenge and plays like he's here to go the distance. He also delivers the new sound of cool. This is a kid to keep your ears open for as well as ready, willing and able to receive. Hot stuff throughout.