Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Michael Bates - Northern Spy (Stereoscopic, 2015)

Bassist Michael Bates has been a force to be reckoned with as a leader, sideman and composer on several projects on the modern mainstream jazz scene for many years. Drawing inspiration from soul singers and jazz instrumentalists Bates put together a tight trio for this project, including Michael Blake on tenor saxophone and Jeremy “Bean” Clemons on drums. They kept the music as spontaneous as possible, with no edits and using only first or second takes to develop a raw, live sound.  After “Theme for a Blind Man” sets the pace akin to “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground” by the spiritual bluesman Blind Willie Johnson the group moves into “Essex House” which has a raw, nearly burlesque saxophone opening before the playing moves from sultry to bright and then back again, as Blake’s saxophone probes and looks for handholds. “Roxy” begins with unaccompanied saxophone, with the remaining members of the trio filling in, allowing Bates’ dark hued bass to mesh with the drums and saxophone for a well integrated and adroit performance. The emotional cry of the saxophone and shimmering cymbals move the music into ballad territory on “An Otis Theme On Curtis Changes” as Blake makes his opening statement warm yet firm. The music develops from spare patience to a more frantic section where drums crash, bass strings are pulled deeply and the saxophone scours and grates in a wicked collective improvisation. Clemons gets an excellent feature on “Bean,” where his hypnotic solo percussion weaves in and around before Blake’s saxophone barrels in leading to slashing drumming as the two musicians duke it out. “Wingnut” finds the band up and moving strongly with a great bass and drum foundation allowing things to move frighteningly fast and freeing Clemons to slip the leash for a short drum solo. There is an emotional ballad sensibility to “End of History” with Blake’s soulful saxophone playing up against the rumbling splash of drums. The slow pulls of Bates’ bass ignites Blake into high pitch screams of music akin to early Pharaoh Sanders, followed by a deep down bellow. There is a dynamic version of the standard “The Days of Wine and Roses” which starts out with a liquid mellowish feel, before Blake unleashes strong rending cries from his instrument, and there is a wonderful bass feature for Bates, playing slowly and patiently. Martial drums usher in “Northern Spy” amid thick bass and developing into collective trio improvisation that is strong and true. There is an excellent saxophone turn that is rough and honest, and the band just plays well as a fully integrated unit devoid of any egotistical manner. “Neptune” ends the album in a majestic fashion with a slow and deep bass solo, before the music begins to move faster, and like a locomotive picking up speed, the trio howls ever onward into the night. This was a very well done album where the musicians played in a very tight fashion, supporting one another selflessly and also counting on that support when their own solo turns came. The trio context worked out quite well for all concerned, allowing a wide open area for them to move with their ideas. Northern Spy - amazon.com

Send comments to Tim.