Monday, March 21, 2016

Michael Blake - Fulfillment (Songlines, 2016)

Saxophonist and composer Michael Blake might be better associated with the downtown New York jazz/improv scene, but he still retains close ties to his hometown of Vancouver, which has a very impressive group of musicians in its own right. He returned there to record a group of songs he wrote about the plight of refugees; those turned away from British Columbia in 1914, and those looking to flee to safety in 2016. “Sea Shanty” is an interesting way to open the album with vocalist Emma Postl and guitarist Aram Bajakian sitting in. Acoustic guitar and prominent drumming set the stage for the singing, with the horns backing and then Blake stepping forward for an excellent raw tenor saxophone solo amidst thick bass and tumbling rhythm. Fast speed and strong rhythm are also in effect on “Perimeters” with Blake working the core music is the thick of things while spacey guitar and electronics swirl. They develop an interesting electro/acoustic sound that builds in speed and gives Blake an interesting thicket to solo over and through. “Arrivals” has a spooky sensibility with a huge drum sound with reverberating horns and cello developing a very ominous sound. The music belies its small group nature to get very loud, with massive slabs of saxophone and processional sounding drums encompassing the whole performance with a deep sense of dread. Chris Gestrin’s piano playing is the centerpiece of “Departures” with his fluent playing leading the group on a fun, lurching adventure. Dylan van der Schyff’s powerful drumming is another part of the performance’s success but the whole band takes Blake’s composition and runs with it, blasting forward in a blizzard of notes and a keyboard and drums section of crashing fun, before Blake’s horn jumps in to bring things to a close. Bajakian sits in again on “Battle at Baj Baj” which lowers the tempo, enveloping the music with reverent horns along with shimmering drums and cymbals. Sad strings develop an emotional quality to the music along with foreboding percussion, which builds like an incantation while Blake’s powerful tenor saxophone becomes super intense as he cries and wails over the top. There is very cool tabla from Neelamjit Dhillon and more excellent guitar from Bajakian on “Exaltation” which makes for pleasant rhythm, which Blake takes hold of on soprano saxophone and he moves delicately through with an excellent solo. Bajakian will not be denied however, and builds a solo of sculpted noise that frames the music, and allows it’s inherent dynamic nature to come to the forefront, as the rhythm moves to its own internal forces and currents. This was a very good album, and an excellent glimpse of Michael Blake as a composer. He plays very well as always, with several good solos, but it is his writing for the ensemble that is the key for the album’s success that is what keeps the music continuously exciting and interesting. Fulfillment -

Send comments to Tim.