FLY: Sky & Country (ECM 2067)

Sky & Country

Sky & Country

Mark Turner tenor and soprano saxophones
Larry Grenadier double-bass
Jeff Ballard drums
Recorded February/June 2008 at Avatar Studios, New York
Engineer: James A. Farber
Produced by Manfred Eicher

The intimately democratic trio known as FLY encompasses the talents of saxophonist Mark Turner, bassist Larry Grenadier, and drummer Jeff Ballard. The expressiveness of each member takes flight not only in the playing, but also in the composing, and for a spell tilts ECM’s Europe-leaning scale Stateside.

Ballard pens three tunes, including opener “Lady B,” which sets the dial to a pervading, if understated, hipness. The vibe is at once robust and airy, equalizing Grenadier’s superb melodic sensibilities with Turner’s go-with-the-flow changes and Ballard’s spinning color wheel. Here, as throughout, the trio sways between dance and chance, taking its time to develop a slippery groove and overlapping just so before pulling its improvisational ripcord. Ballard also contributes the laddered title track and “Perla Morena,” in which the groove continues at the level of a subconscious whisper. The latter tune throws a spotlight on Turner, who braids tasteful, virtuosic arpeggios in his soloing.

From Grenadier we get two tunes. The ballad “CJ” is a turning point in the album. The composer is, rightly enough, its heart and soul, and against thought-splashes of cymbals offers his monologue as a open meditation on the question of love. “Transfigured” is a sparser dialogue between Turner and Ballard in which Grenadier fleshes the skeletal spaces between with arco tissue. These freer gestures grab some traction as the rhythm section blends into song, only to snap out of its self-induced spell with fibrillating shine.

Turner’s pen yields four tunes, ranging from buoyant chromatism (“Elena Berenjena”) to slick fantasy (“Anandananda”). Yet it’s his “Super Sister,” which closes the album with 11 minutes of flattering ruminations, that shows the band at its finest. Here arises the full instrumental palette. Between Ballard’s murmuring poetics, and the swinging DNA helixes spun by Turner and Grenadier, there’s so much to admire and tease apart that you may just want to put the album on again the moment it ends.


(To hear samples of Sky & Country, click here.)

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