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Live Reviews

Michael Blake's Hellbent, Earshot Jazz event, Tula's, Seattle, Washington

By Published: March 17, 2007

After the break, a tune written by Kresten Osgood—the drummer in Blake Tartare—built and built from an unaccompanied tenor intro, then tuba, then slide trumpet and finally drums. Bernstein took a heated slide solo followed by Blake, who broke up the bar lines in intriguing ways, with teasing, tugging rhythmic displacements backed only by Weston. This segment was a bit Ornette-ish in an oblique sort of way. When Rojas came back in Weston had hollers and driving kit rhythms to goose the full quartet back into action. The drummer's solo was heavy on toms and hard on sticks (a spent one went flying into the audience). He has a volcanic style that is brawny, busy and energizing without being bombastic. The transition back to the closing ensemble was stop-on-a-dime perfection. After playing the tune Blake told a witty story about Osgood and a Danish "reality TV show where five kids choose cards picturing musical instruments and by the end of the show play a piece of music on the instruments they drew at random. Bernstein quipped: "That's what happens when you don't have a standing Army!

"Flipper from the Blake Tartare book was next. It began in a rather melancholy mood with Blake's melodically inventive tenor accompanied mainly by only Rojas, with the tenorist's creative sub-tone musings and low-register poetry telling a compelling story. The dolorous, dirge-like theme resurfaced with the tuba moving into its highest register as the piece picked up steam, Weston driving with a vengeance as a tempo was established (in six?) Bernstein took a fine trumpet solo that was similarly driving and rhythmically impetuous. As Rojas began his solo he appeared to be "conversing with the sounds filtering in from the kitchen and from behind the bar. In the course of this solo he used pretty much everything at his disposal— percussion on the horn's keys and body, voice, embouchure, breath—as he careened along on a hilarious and virtuosic joy-ride, aided and abetted by Weston's yells of encouragement.

Blake assured us that we'd recognize the final piece in the set. Well, maybe... It certainly sounded familiar but I couldn't place it. Taken at a blistering up-tempo, it featured an incendiary tenor solo packed with imaginative thematic improvisation that seemed akin to Sonny Rollins at his best (hmmm, a Newk tune?) Bernstein's slide solo was wild and woolly, a talking-in-tongues extravaganza. And there was a canny tuba/ drums break: very tasty.

Catch this group in performance if you can. They're hell bent on having fun and creating music that speaks to the heart and soul as well as to the body and mind.

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