Saxophonist and flutist T.K. Blue, the artist formerly known as Talib Kibwe, continues to evolve his own brand of post-bop on Eyes of the Elders, his second release as a leader for Arkadia Jazz. Despite the pretentious title, this album contains some worthy performances by a cadre of jazz veterans and young lions. Though T.K. Blue fits the ubiquitous description of the contemporary jazzer infatuated with jazz tradition, he actually spent years paying his dues with jazz veterans including Abdullah Ibrahim, Randy Weston, Billy Mitchell, Jimmy Heath and Ernie Wilkins.
As evident on this album, Blue soaked up some of the Afro-centric rhythms that inundate the music of former mentors Weston and Ibrahim. The exotic percussion on these performances adds some uniqueness to an otherwise quotidian hard bop blowing session. The son of West Indian immigrants, Blue appropriates the drums and rhythms of his island heritage to the jazz tradition. Aside from Blue’s excursions on kalimba, percussionists Steve Croon and newcomer Stefan Harris help give this album its spicy flavor. The highlights of the album are mostly percussion heavy calypso-esque workouts. Denzel Best’s "Wee," immortalized by Charlie Parker at Massey Hall, gets an island inspired overhaul. "Dance of the Nile" and "South Side Samba" comprise some other highlights. Blue has discovered that cerebral and creative jazz can still be danceable.
Several veterans join Blue on this date including Joanne Brackeen, Randy Brecker, and Steve Kroon. Though Blue still lacks a regular band, the group he employs gels well on most cuts. The band varies on every song revolving around the nucleus of Blue, Jeff "Tain" Watts on drums, and Lonnie Plaxico on bass. The guests however, provide many of the highlights. Joanne Brackeen’s solo on Frozen Mist, Randy Brecker on Mingus’ Nostalgia in Times Square, and Steve Kroon on Benny Carter’s South Side Samba are just a few examples. Newcomer Stefon Harris provides some other bright spots with his virtuosic marimba excursions. Blue has some strong solo spots as well including an homage to his greatest influence on Coltrane’s "Wise One." Most of the time, though, Blue seems perfectly willing to let his sidemen shine.
The liner notes describe T.K. Blue’s intention to encompass music ancient to contemporary with this album. He doesn’t really meet this lofty goal. For instance, No avant-garde or fusion undercurrents make it to this album. Really this music is about as au courant as the contemporary music described in Ken Burns’ Jazz. Also, the attempt to include ancient music proves fairly weak. Three short interludes referred to as Village Council numbers 1,2, and 3 attempt to evoke the ancient/tribal music of Africa using only percussion instruments. Their presence on the album, however, really does not add anything. I also fear that the village council cuts were intended to catch some of the vapors from TV’s Survivor series.
So Blue’s grasp may have overextended his reach, but he has still made a very enjoyable album in Eyes of the Elders.
Personnel: Joanne Brackeen - Piano Lonnie Plaxico - Bass Randy Brecker - Trumpet, Flugelhorn Steve Kroon - Percussion James Weidman - Piano Stefon Harris - Marimba, Vibraphone Jeff "Tain" Watts - Drums Eric Reed - Piano James Weidman - Piano T.K. Blue - Saxophones, Flute, Kalimbas.