Jeff Ballard showcases his Fairground attractions

The drummer’s day job with the Brad Mehldau trio keeps him busy, while Fairgrounds let’s him do some playing around

Jeff Ballard's Fairgrounds
Pavilion Theatre, Dún Laoghaire

The latest configuration of drummer Jeff Ballard's Fairgrounds project was more or less fresh out of the box, here playing only their third concert together. At times the music seemed to lose focus, but it was nevertheless fascinating and occasionally exhilarating to hear four musicians from the uppermost branches of the jazz tree searching together for a new sound.

Ballard's day job with the Brad Mehldau trio keeps him busy, so Fairgrounds is an opportunity for him to do some playing around; in the past, the group has been a quintet, a trio and even a duo, depending on which of the drummer's associates happened to be available.

Here, though, the line-up was deeply appetising: the group includes the much-lauded Beninese guitarist Lionel Loueke, bassist Reid Anderson of breakthrough piano trio the Bad Plus, and Armenian piano wunderkind Tigran Hamasayan.

Their nearly two-hour set contained only two or three actual tunes, including a brief appearance by Eric Dolphy's Gazzeloni, Anderson's post-impressionistic Miro, and the romantic, folk-tinged Spinners from Hamasayan. But the tunes were really just fleetingly glimpsed signposts on what was a largely improvised journey into abstraction.


Anderson, it turned out, hadn’t packed his double bass but instead was bent over a laptop and a board of flashing lights, triggering various samples and processed sounds – often, it seemed, as direct provocations to Ballard.

In response, the drummer showed his uncanny ability to imply a groove without ever actually playing it. Hamasayan, clearly relishing the open nature of proceedings, was an endless source of ideas, and when given solo space, showed why he is regarded as one of the new stars of his instrument.

Loueke alone seemed slightly unsure of where to put his beautiful sound. However, the few moments of pure exhilaration were largely due to the guitarist’s bluesy, romantic sensibility.