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Artist Profiles

Oliver Lake: From Which Freedom Continues

By Published: November 2, 2006
Living the life of a renaissance man leaves little free time. In the two weeks before our interview, Lake played three festivals in Europe with the WSQ (joined by his son, drummer Gene Lake), played and recorded with his organ trio (with another son, DJ Jahi Sundance), rehearsed and performed in Geri Allen's "Healing of Nations Concert at Rutgers University and did two nights in Pittsburgh with poets from China and Senegal. And he was preparing to head to California to begin rehearsals for a big band doing new arrangements of Dewey Redman compositions. The project, led by composer Mark Masters, was meant to be fronted by Redman, but when he died last month, Lake got the call. "My first thought was, 'Why didn't he call a tenor player?'," Lake said. "But I was honored that he did. I loved Dewey.

On top of it all, Lake tries to find time for visual expression. He has been painting since high school, completing about one piece a year, but had been having trouble finding time to keep up with it. He credits AACM saxophonist Douglas Ewart with encouraging him to set aside 15 minutes a day to paint.

"Now I'm doing 30 minutes a day, so I graduated, he said with a laugh. "When I paint, I have no idea where I'm going to go. I think my painting and my music go the same way.

And still there's more he wants to do. In 2003, he released Cloth (Passin' Thru), a strong, diverse set of arrangements for a 16-piece band. "I want to keep composing for big band, he said.

"I'd like to do some larger works, he went on. "I really want to create a multi-media piece with a lot of video and sound clips. And I'd like to see my record company become a success.

Oliver Lake The label may well be the center of all of those goals (some of the releases even feature his paintings in the booklets). Passin' Thru was the imprint for his first solo record, NTU: The Point From Which Freedom Begins (1971) and, after a hiatus, was brought back to life in 1995, prompted by the realization that not owning publishing rights means not controlling how your work is used.

"The first time I heard Lee Morgan's music in a commercial, that was an inspiration to own my own music, he said.

The label is run out of his home, by him and a part-time secretary, but, Lake said, it's the key to his freedom.

"This music—you never know where it's going to end up, he said. "I wanted to own as much of my music as I could. It's crazy, but I don't regret it. I always wanted to be in control of what I do and we never know where our music is gonna end up. The majority of the music I've done is mine.

Selected Discography

Oliver Lake Big Band, Cloth (Passin' Thru, 2003)

Oliver Lake, Movement, Turns & Switches (Passin' Thru, 1996)

Trio 3 (Oliver Lake/Reggie Workman/Andrew Cyrille), Live in Willisau (Dizzim, 1992)

World Saxophone Quartet, Plays Duke Ellington (Elektra/Nonesuch, 1986)

Oliver Lake, Heavy Spirits (Freedom, 1975)

Oliver Lake, NTU: The Point From Which Freedom Begins (Passin' Thru-Freedom, 1971)

Photo Credits
Top Photo: Daniele Pardi
Bottom Photo: Frank Rubolino

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