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Review: Charlie Ballantine's 'Providence'

The Best of Indy winner drops second release tonight at the Jazz Kitchen


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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.

If you go: 

Charlie Ballantine Album Release 
Friday, May 6 
Jazz Kitchen, 5377 N. College Ave.
$12, 21+ 


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