Ron Blake’s latest effort on Detroit-based Mack Avenue Records is a dedication to the organ trio as an institution. In paying tribute to three legendary musicians he enlists the help of fellow Virgin Islander trumpeter Rawshawn Ross (five tracks) and guitarist David Gilmore (four tracks). The core of the trio is made up of three extraordinary musicians: organist Joey DeFrancesco, drummer Greg Hutchinson and bassist Christian McBride. Blake is in McBride’s group (appearing on the bassist's last two CDs) and has enlisted his longtime friend as co-producer on Lest We Forget.
This album is geared for those who relish the good ole days of the organ trio (with the indispensable tenor saxophone). While reminiscent of groove-oriented soul vamps, it keeps the material fresh with nods to psych rock and straight-ahead jazz. Not surprisingly, the album is a tribute to three musicians who tragically died in close succession – saxophonists Grover Washington Jr. and Stanley Turrentine, and organist Charles Earland.
“I felt like I needed to do something to pay tribute to these three men,” says Blake.
Blake's rendition of Earland’s "More Today than Yesterday" sparkles with nostalgia, Ross’ trumpet obligato lines sweetly woven behind Blake’s commanding melody. The energy really builds in the shout section with Blake and Joey D propelling the band to a climactic ending. Equally impressive, if a bit lower key, is Grover Washington’s "Happenstance." Ross’ solo flows with the bravura of Chuck Mangione’s flugel and the hard bop edge of Lee Morgan.
Though it takes a while to warm up, Washington’s chart topper "Mister Magic" is lit up especially by DeFrancesco’s solo and comping behind the soloists. Unfortunately, Blake doesn’t appear at the top of his game here, which is somewhat of a letdown given the possibilities of a tune that is simply a two-chord vamp. One could argue he tries to “keep it real” by playing simply, but I’ve seen him play live and I know he is capable of more.
Christian McBride’s acoustic presence is something else as he duos with Blake on Michel Legrand’s "You Must Believe in Spring." Their years of work together are evident here in their rapport and ability to play off of each other.
The highlight of the album, though, is Earland’s "Mighty Burner," with powerful solo statements from Blake, DeFrancesco and a great trading section with Hutchinson. The last two tracks provide some variety and should not be overlooked. On "Asalto Navideno," Blake shares his musical heritage as a native of the Virgin Islands with a grooving minor Caribbean romp. Finally, Blake shows his skills as a balladeer on J.J. Johnson’s aptly-titled "Lament."
Blake’s tone and style show through in everything he plays. He's maturing quickly into a fine complete musician with an equal affinity for grooves, tunes with tough changes, and frankly anything you throw in front of him. Expect to hear a lot from Ron Blake as both keeper of the flame and innovator.
Personnel: Ron Blake: soprano and tenor saxophone; Joey DeFrancesco: Hammon organ; Gregory Hutchinson: drums;
Christian McBride: bass; David Gilmore: electric and acoustic guitar; Rashawn Ross: trumpet.