Independent Release, 2024
By Jeff Cebulski | ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2
The alto saxophonist Amanda Gardier, formerly of Indianapolis and one of the last graduates of Indiana University’s jazz studies program under David Baker, has gradually developed a reputation for excellence in playing, education, and composition. Her musical partnership with husband and guitarist Charlie Ballentine has progressed to a move to the East Coast where Gardier joined the Navy and became part of the service’s Commodore Band, which appeared at McCormick Place in December, all the while parenting, writing, and preparing a new album, Auteur, her third, that includes a current drummer du jour, David King.
King’s involvement marks a new development in Gardier’s performance career. Her first two albums, Empathy and Flyover Country, featured original music steeped in neo-post bop approaches. Auteur has a more contemporary, technoesque, ethnic-seasoned feel, with the operating muse the movies of Wes Anderson. Each piece is thematically connected to one of Anderson’s films. Basically, this is a fangirl’s jazz interpretation of one of America’s singular film directors.
In this way as well, Gardier is partnering with her husband in that Ballentine, in 2020, recorded Vonnegut, his tribute to fellow Indiana artist Kurt Vonnegut. Gardier was part of that release and perhaps was inspired to do her own tribute.
[Chicago-area jazz fans can experience their partnership for themselves when her quartet, including King and longtime bassist Jesse Whitman, performs at Space in Evanston on Monday, January 22, at 6:30 p.m.]
The music here is typified by the use of pulsating phrases that create a framework in which King and Whitman provide stimulating rhythms. We know about King, whose percussive skills adorn the music of The Bad Plus and Julian Lage. Whitman, though, has grown into a versatile sideman, and the cohesion of bass and drums on this album is superb.
Ballentine, meanwhile, does his dutiful job in comping his talented wife, though he also gets to create solos that reflect on his earlier material, as a kind of bridge between classic rock and classic jazz. But his intense woodshedding in recent years has reaped great results, proven especially in his contributions during the album’s second half.
The album’s opener, “Coping With the Very Troubled Child” (Moonrise Kingdom) begins with a banging King solo and thrashing Ballentine riff that leads to an angular Gardier expression that reminds me of Chris Speed, someone King has played with. With Whitman providing the pulse, the tune connotes the spirit of dysfunction and relationship dissonance. Gardier’s response to Rushmore, “Let’s Hope It’s Got a Happy Ending,” settles things down as the saxophonist muses while King traverses his drum set.
The pulse of “I Wonder if it Remembers Me” (The Life Aquatic) comes from Gardier, with a repeating measure that accompanies Ballentine’s deep-echoed chords and synthesized wails. “The Blue of Winter” (The Grand Budapest Hotel) carries a tone of nostalgia while Ballentine takes over the pulsation duty, until the opening refrain gives way to a softly jaunty, soulful theme that is enhanced by Whitman’s bouncy playing.
High points among the remainder include Gardier’s eastern-hued melody on “The Cycling Reporter” (The French Dispatch), Ballantine’s and King’s dynamic contributions to “Order for Yourself” (The Darjeeling Limited), and “Green Line” (The Royal Tenenbaums), where several of the motifs created for the album come together, with a sterling serpentine solo from Ballentine and yearning passage from Gardier while Whitman and King dance together in rhythm.
On Auteur, the ambitious Amanda Gardier has proven her ability and artistic depth, and the eclectic displays among her three releases shows she is up to any challenge in any modern jazz format.
Tickets for the Space concert can be bought here: TICKETS
Amanda Gardier, alto saxophone
Charlie Ballentine, guitar
Jesse Whitman, bass
David King, drums
About Jeff Cebulski
Jeff Cebulski, who lives in Chicago, is a retired English educator (both secondary and collegiate) and longtime jazz aficionado. His career in jazz includes radio programs at two stations in southeast Wisconsin, an online show on Kennesaw State’s (GA) Owl Radio from 2007 until 2015, and review/feature writing for Chicago Jazz Magazine since 2016, including his column "Jazz With Mr. C". He has interviewed many jazz artists, including Joshua Redman, Charles Lloyd, Dave Holland, John Beasley, and Chris Brubeck, as well as several Chicago-based players. Jeff is a member of the Jazz Journalists Association. Contact Jeff at firstname.lastname@example.org