Jeff Ball
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Jeff Ball

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"Jeff Ball - Cedar Moon"

(Red Feather 800-456-5444)

The Native Americans of the plains called the full moon that rises on warm, clear spring nights a CEDAR MOON. It was thought to be a benevolent beacon that illuminated the way of secret lovers to midnight meetings, a silvery invitation to savor the sound of a little night music. Rustling through the trees, the voice of the cedar flute would serenade listeners with songs of romance. Jeff Ball, an exceptional cedar flutist comparable to R. Carlos Nakai or John Kevin Locke, takes a contemporary approach to his instrument, blending it here with smooth jazz ensemble, Native spoken word and rich, textural tonalities that sound both comfortably familiar and completely innovative. Sax, piano, guitar and bass give a nicely rounded, cool groove on "Concrete Canyon," heightened by some hot chant accents and bluesy flute solos. Also perfect for late night listening is the profoundly melodic, nostalgic "Pictures of Home" and the beautiful ballad, "Just Another Day." By blending the best of both Anglo and Native musical styles, Ball has come up with a uniquely sophisticated sound without losing the highly prized organic voice of the cedar flute in the mix. He plays with amazing depth of feeling, allowing his soul to rise within each note. Hearing such solo virtuosity within a tight ensemble setting is a rare treat, indeed. - PJ Birosik


"Jeff Ball - Songs of Winter"

This winter musical escape is a joyous seasonal celebration. Songs of Winter sweeps us into a festive mood and yet is meditative in nature. It manages to combine the feel of nature and man into songs that inspire. The sound of Jeff Ball’s Native American wood-flute brings a tribal connection to Native American culture, yet is appealing to most audiences because of its modern sound. This combination distinguishes Ball’s music from the rest. “…individuality is the tradition I am following. I am simply trying to convey a mood or feeling. There is no point in copying what others are doing. We want to create a new path in our genre. This isn’t our ancestor’s flute music. This is American wood-flute music for the modern age.”

Ball brings the brass flute scale to his wood-flute which makes his playing quite unique. He is a true musician as he delicately and precisely brings undiscovered notes to his songs. The wood-flute along with various guitars, piano, bells, organ, and drums make it a modern and exciting combination.

Songs of Winter is meditative and soothing and is a step into uncharted territory.

This is Jeff Ball’s sixth nationally released album. The album is comprised of traditional Christmas songs such as “Silent Night”, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “O Holy Night.” It also contains three original songs, “Through the Eyes of Innocence”, “Winter Without You” and “November.” A musical bonus to the album is a remake of The Beatles’ “Across the Universe”. Featured musicians on the album are Jeff Ball, Randy Ball, Sennen Quigley, Ted Natale and Lynn Bogwich.

Songs of Winter captures the essence and emotion of the winter season. It is a season of going within to bring about new life in the spring. This is music that wraps itself around the soul and stirs memories and feelings of comfort. I look forward to listening to the CD many times this season. - Angela Hutchinson


"The Shape of Light"

Jeff Ball, who plays the Native American flute, takes a slightly different direction on this, his seventh recording (different based on my relatively limited exposure to his previous works, that is). The Shape of Light is more contemplative, more laid-back and also slightly more exotic. Part of this is due to the introduction of an instrument called a hang (pronounced hong). The hang is a versatile melodious percussion instrument (played with the fingers) that sounds (to me) like a steel drum crossed with a kalimba and water drum. The instrument's unique sonic characteristics evoke ancient and mystical connotations (within the right compositional framework) but there is also a natural warmth to its sounds. Played here by Ted Natale, the hang sometimes adds a gentle playfulness (e.g. on Metta Prayer) and at other times, an almost Zen-like sense of calm (the opening Finding Promise which opens amidst a tamboura drone and brief runs by Ball on flute and gradually builds into a nicely rhythmic quasi-tribal piece).

On this CD, Ball surrounds himself with talented artists too numerous to mention, on instruments such as fretless bass, violin, cello, piano and acoustic guitar, among others. While the album’s musical vision is closer to world fusion than it is to Native fusion, new age, or more traditional Native American flute music, an appreciation for Ball's warm and haunting flute playing will cement your enjoyment of this worthy recording. The CD's engineering and production are both excellent and the various artists' performances are uniformly wonderful (e.g. Arvel Bird's violin on "Metta Prayer" alternately floats, chirps, and dances alongside Ball’s calming flute and Natale's soft yet insistent slaps on the sides of the hang).

I enjoyed the music on The Shape of Light and came to appreciate its unique pan-global orientation. So many times, Native flute fusion music releases are not really all that different from one another. Such is not the case with this album. Dawn Avery's soulful cello colors the title track's buoyant liveliness with a hint of somberness, so that even while the rapid tempo on hang and flute enliven you, the cello causes you to reflect. The long track Getting There opens with sparse piano which speaks of broad vistas, accompanied by subtle hang, and Ball's haunting flute underlines the feelings of isolation amidst open spaces. The piece gradually builds up a steady momentum, evoking comparisons to everything from Hans Zimmer’s Rainman soundtrack to David Friedman’s Moonrise.

Ball also carries the load by himself on tracks like Tranquility (a serene flute meditation) and Never Alone (on which his plaintive lower register flute floats forlornly over the sound of rushing wind). However, the ensemble pieces are where The Shape of Light shines brightest, such as the album-closing Drawing in Embers (which starts off with the crash of thunder!), a great concluding track with guitar, flute, percussion, throat singing (by Ball) and hang fusing together in symbiotic fashion, drawing comparisons to any number of early-period Shadowfax albums.

I hope Jeff Ball continues on the path he is walking with The Shape of Light. It’s his most consistently enjoyable album to date (to my ears) and manages to be introspective without being too quiet, featuring some nice touches of fire and passion, albeit leavened with some softer shading so that the CD would play as well late at night as it does during the day. Solidly recommended.

- reviewed by Bill Binkelman on 7/4/2007 - New Age Reporter


Discography

Reverence (CD) - Released in 1998
Cedar Moon (CD) - Released in 2000
Windtamer (CD) - Released in 2001
Prairie Runner (CD) - Released in 2002
Songs of Winter (CD) - Released in 2003
Return to Balance (CD) - Released in 2005
The Shape of Light (CD) - Released in 2006
Ghost Town (CD) - Released in 2009

Photos

Bio

Jeff was born and raised in Rockville, Maryland, and is still a resident of that state. He comes primarily from a Scotch-Irish heritage with "according to family legend, a few drops of Indian blood, just enough to help me play wood-flute." Jeff grew up listening to both pop music and smooth jazz, but after he went to a powwow and heard a Native American flute player, “I couldn't get enough of it.” Ball got his first flute in 1992. “I knew some Indian groups in Virginia and they introduced me to a Choctaw flute player named Windtamer who gave me some valuable tips early on. I read everything I could get my hands on about the Native American culture and history. At Indian gatherings I listened to the stories; I joined them in sweat lodges; and I got some sage advice from a Chippewa medicine man."

Over the years Ball has become one of the genre’s most influential flutists and is known for stretching wood-flute playing to new limits. His albums encompass a wide variety of styles, ranging from new age to smooth jazz to rock. In addition to listening albums, Jeff has recorded soundtracks, holiday music, and music for mediation. This diverse sound is achieved through the use of solo flute, full band and most recently pairing the flute with an interesting percussion instrument called the Hang. Also spreading Ball's reputation is an instruction book that he wrote. First published in 1994, Trailhead of the American Courting Flute remains the genre’s foremost instructional primer.

At first Jeff performed solo shows, but after a few years his brother Randy showed up and began sitting in on bass. He was soon joined by other musicians Ted Natale, on percussion, and Greg Dillon, on guitar. They formed the Jeff Ball Band as you know it today. In the past few years they have performed at many festivals, powwows and outdoor concerts. They regularly incorporate Native American dancers into their shows. In addition, the band has performed on stage with R. Carlos Nakai, Mary Youngblood, Bill Miller, Arvel Bird, and Robert Mirabal.

"We don't play traditional American Indian songs," Jeff says. "When the Indians first started making flutes hundreds of years ago, they were only used by young men for courting. They would go out into the woods and listen to the wind in the trees or the birds singing; and each flute-player came up with his own music to play for the woman of his choice. That individuality is the tradition I am following. There is no point in copying what others are doing. We want to create a new path in our genre. This isn't our ancestor's flute music. This is American wood-flute music for the modern age."