Listening to Food….

Food has/have been around for a good long while now and have just issued their sixth album, ‘Quiet Inlet’, their first for ECM.  I read a comment somewhere to the effect that Food are almost a quintessential ECM band and that it is surprising that it has taken them this long to get together.  Whatever the case, it is a union that has been well worth waiting for, if only because ‘Quiet Inlet’ is probably the most impressive Food album to date.

These days, Food seems to have stabilised around founder Iain Ballamy and Norwegian percussionist Thomas Strønen, for whom Food is just one of several outlets.  Humcrush, Meadow and Parish (sounds like a firm of lawyers) are 3 other groups who benefit from Strønen’s input – mainly centred on the eclectic Rune Grammofon label, for whom Food themselves previously recorded between 2002 and 2007.

Where Strønen is concerned, it is as well to emphasise his role as a percussionist rather than merely a drummer as ‘Quiet Inlet’ is filled with rattling, jingling percussive effects that are some way removed from conventional jazz drumming.   Ballamy meantime produces layers of multi-tracked saxophones that evoke Weather Report-era Wayne Shorter to name but one influence.

Food have become what you might call ‘an augmented duo’.  Strønen and Ballamy have added collaborators over the span of the group’s discography – notably trumpeter Arve Henriksen and bassist Mats Eilertsen –  but for this latest release the Austrian  Christian Fennesz who supplies guitar and ‘effects’ plus nu-jazz ‘guru’ (if we may refer to him as such)  and trumpeter Nils Petter  Molvær.  ‘Quiet Inlet’ is a hugely satisfying album in many ways, building on the band’s previous(and considerable) achievements and taking the whole thing to new levels.  Of course, there are strong echoes of Molvær’s own repertoire here and ‘Quiet Inlet’ will definitely appeal to Molvær fans as well as to those who have enjoyed Arve Henriksen’s recent albums.

Thomas Strønen and Iain Ballamy : a tasty duo

The overall tone ranges from stately to skittish with mournful interludes so beloved of Scandinavian nu-jazzers but each track features imaginative arrangements that display each of the participants to their best effect.  Ballamy is one of the few outsiders to have established an ongoing liaison with the new breed of Norwegian jazz musicians and after a lengthy apprenticeship going back to Loose Tubes and taking in Billy Jenkins, Mike Gibbs, Django Bates and Bill Bruford, he seems to have finally hit his stride with Food. 

Today Thomas Strønen’s website remarks that the duo(with Fennesz) are en route to play at the Cheltenham Festival, a gig that will apparently be broadcast by the BBC.  Now that’s one to look forward to….

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