Michael Blake cita espressamente tre sassofonisti nelle rarefatte note di copertina di questo album: Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young e Ross Taggart. I primi due sono la fonte di ispirazione di questo eccellente Tiddy Boom, mentre Taggart viene menzionato soprattutto per ricordarne la figura, di recente scomparsa. Ma non sarebbe sbagliato tirare fuori dall’armadio anche Wardell Grey e soprattutto Ben Webster.
Il riferimento a questi jazzisti divenuti famosi fra la fine degli anni trenta e il decennio successivo, non deve portare fuori strada chi non conosce l’arte sopraffina di Blake. Il sassofonista canadese non è un tradizionalista, anzi. Semmai la sua capacità vera è quella di essere sempre sottilmente lieve. E questo gli consente di pescare a piene mani dalla tradizione, estrapolando concetti, sentimenti, tic e piccole manie. Lo fa con intelligenza e capacità di lettura, per poi scarnificarli e asciugarli al sole della modernità. Solo a questo punto li fa definitivamente suoi.
Fra i contemporanei è certamente uno dei sassofonisti più convincenti. Non è apparentemente troppo radicale, ma alla lunga la sua coerenza paga forse anche di più delle tante scelte più aggressive ed estreme. Il suo suono è perfettamente centrato ed espressivo, con il giusto apporto di soffio e con una articolazione eccellente. Lo ripetiamo: non lasciatevi ingannare dalle sue buone maniere. Anche lui ha le unghie ben affilate, ma spesso sceglie di lasciarle nel fodero.
NCAQ is Jerry Granelli, drums / Peggy Lee, cello / Chris Gestrin, piano / Michael Blake, tenor, clarinet, flute
Formed in 2019 the New Canadian Art Quartet is a creative music ensemble focused on performing improvised and original works. The group includes four of Canada’s leading improvisers, each known for commanding a distinctive voice on their instruments. Founded by legendary drummer Jerry Granelli, saxophonist Michael Blake, cellist Peggy Lee and pianist Chris Gestrin, the NCAQ is propelled by three generations of professional experience. The instrumentation includes cello, acoustic piano, woodwinds and a variety of percussion instruments, with each player inhabiting an expansive world of sonic possibilities. Combining both traditional and alternative techniques, the group practices the art of ‘spontaneous composition’, a creative process based on a group mindset. This creative process has been the focus of the eldest member of the group, percussionist Jerry Granelli, who has been performing and teaching this technique for almost a half century.
Each member is a prolific composer and bandleader in their own right. Jerry Granelli has made music with some of the biggest names in the music business. Originally from the Bay Area of California, he became synonymous with the new sound of the 1960’s. Jerry’s own career spans the history of jazz, rhythm and blues and world music. Ironically, of the four members he is the newest to become a Canadian citizen. Michael Blake was born in Montreal and spent his youth moving with his family between Canada and the US. They eventually settled in Vancouver, BC where he took up the clarinet and saxophone. He moved to New York City in 1986 where he has remained a constant on the scene. Vancouverites Chris Gestrin and Peggy Lee are recognized as central figures in the Canadian creative music community. Gestrin received his Masters in film composition at Berklee School of Music and is heavily in demand in the fields of visual media, audio production and live performance. Peggy Lee is internationally renowned for her tone, technique and melodic approach on the cello. She is a leading figure in the Vancouver avant garde music scene yet equally comfortable performing Classical Music.
The New York City based saxophonist Michael Blake has built his reputation by producing albums that “make the familiar sound fresh” (Jim Macnie, Downbeat). That statement couldn’t apply better than to Blake’s new release, Tiddy Boom, his nod to the magnificent tenor saxophone innovators Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young. Recorded in January 2014 and set for release on Sunnyside Records (October 28th, 2014), the session sounds like a classic recording date from the 1950s or 1960s.Tiddy Boom reunites Blake with two of his former Jazz Composers Collective colleagues, bassist Ben Allison and pianist Frank Kimbrough, who, along drummer Rudy Royston, provide effortless support for Blake’s tenor sax to flow in any direction he chooses on his program of all original compositions.
“Blake gets incredible range from his band here…beautiful stuff for our ears…[not] any less great than Joshua Redman or Banford Marsalis or even Sonny Rollins.” – Will Layman, PopMatters, Reviewing In The Grand Scheme Of Things
Over the last 9 years, New York saxophonist Michael Blake has been periodically returning to Vancouver, which he left in 1986, to create and record new works with his pick of Vancouver improvisers. Amor de Cosmos (2007), a sextet somewhat inspired by his BC roots, featured Chris Gestrin, Dylan van der Schyff and André Lachance. In the Grand Scheme of Things (2012) was by his Variety Hour quartet (Gestrin, van der Schyff and JP Carter). This new release, his most ambitious in terms of writing and arranging, adds cello and guitar plus guest instrumentalists and, on two pieces, Michael’s own lyrics.
There’s usually some kind of thesis to each of Michael Blake’s albums, whether they’re about integrating Vietnamese music with jazz (Kingdom of Champa), paying tribute to his saxophone heroes Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young (Tiddy Boom), or mixing European and North American approaches to improvisation (Blake Tartare). So it’s not strange that the essence of the Montreal-born, Vancouver-raised saxophonist’s new Red Hook Soul can be reduced to a single sentence—although the sentence in question isn’t one that’s often applied to jazz albums. “It’s got a great beat, and you can dance to it” is Blake’s motto on the new disc, and he meets his goal handily. As its title suggests, Red Hook Soul is a tribute to African-American pop music of the 1960s, a point driven home by the record’s Otis Redding, Gladys Knight, and Ray Charles covers. (Also reworked are Lana Del Rey’s “Video Games” and jazz innovator Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s “Volunteered Slavery”, just to mix things up a bit.)