Michael Blake Sextet: Amor de Cosmos (2008)
With each release, saxophonist Michael Blake pushes himself in a different direction through composition, instrumentation and/or stylistic approach. On Amor de Cosmos, the native Canadian convened an all-Canuck sextet to perform compositions inspired by family memories and the local history of British Columbia, where he spent time as a child. In a departure for Blake, the group includes younger musicians with whom he had little prior experience: Brad Turner (trumpet), Sal Ferreras (marimba and percussion), Chris Gestrin (keyboards and electronics), Andre Lachance (bass) and Dylan van der Schyff (drums).
The CD opens with the appropriately-titled "Ghostlines," an improvised tenor/keyboard duet with haunting ambience from Blake's fluttered, overblown textures and Gestrin's subtle, coloring. "Temporary Constellation" abounds with timbral contrasts, with piano and marimba introducing a buoyant line, countered by phased trumpet and saxophone. Lachance propels a brief piano solo before Blake restates the quirky line, with trumpet and marimba punctuating the counter movement. The form opens for the leader's run and van der Schyff's dexterous fills around the stops.
The subtle, amorphous theme of the title track emerges from textured atmospherics; its lumbering groove develops with thick bass prompting Blake's riffs and swirling drums enveloping Gestrin's electric piano. At almost 11 minutes, "So Long Seymour" episodically unfolds in distinct sections, opening with minimalist marimba. The pace quickens for a bouncy melodic movement, with the various instruments complementing its skewed line. The rhythm section breaks into a gallop, eliciting a sweeping soprano sax and trumpet unison, which also returns after a cascading marimba/piano duet. An energetic odd-time Afro-beat buttresses the contagious melody of "The Wash Away," inspiring a soaring solo from Turner and hand-percussion flurry from Ferreras.
The relative unfamiliarity between composer and musicians results in greater emphasis on the arrangements and compositions than on soloistic displays. Thematically personal, the tunes brim with catchy melodies, rhythmic complexity that still feels good and engaging forms that provoke exploration within their structure.
Track Listing: Ghostlines; Temporary Constellation; Amor de Cosmos; So Long Seymour; The Wash Away; Infirmary; The Hunt; Paddy Pie Face.
Personnel: Michael Blake: tenor and soprano saxophones; Brad Turner: trumpet; Sal Ferreras: marimba and percussion; Chris Gestrin: acoustic and electric piano, electronics; Andr