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.
Bringing to mind palm trees growing out of the frozen tundra, Michael Blake’s latest group Chroma Nova creates a sinuous blend of Brazilian rhythms and modern jazz. The band includes string players Skye Steele, Chris Hoffman and Michael Bates, guitarist Guilherme Monteiro and percussionists Rogerio Boccato and Mauro Refosco. Their debut album “Dance of the Mystic Bliss” features Blake’s saxophones and flute immersed in a vibrant musical universe of his own making. Several years in the making, “Dance of the Mystic Bliss” was recorded during a lull in the global pandemic. Some of the music reflects the grief Blake experienced processing the death of his mother Merle in 2018 and the ensuing political and public health crisis of 2020. While other pieces are full of heart bursting optimism, all of this music has Blake’s signature balance of form and freedom.
Michael Blake – tenor and soprano sax, flute / Skye Steele – violin / Chris Hoffman – cello / Michael Bates – bass / Guilherme Monteiro – guitar / Mauro Refosco – percussion / Rogerio Boccato – percussion
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.)