The opening tune and the manic, anguished cover aside, there's nothing to fear on Michael Blake's Right Before Your Very Ears. The album's contents are delightful, creative adventures in jazz, with saxophonist Blake, bassist Ben Allison and drummer Jeff Ballard conjuring the strength and imagination of a much larger outfit.
Most of Right Before Your Very Ears likes to groove, making the voluminous and jagged "Run for Cover," the previously mentioned opening number, a harsh introduction. The next tune, the playful "Funhouse," is a better approximation of the magic these three players can produce. It is on "Flip," though, where the band strikes the proverbial gold mine. Paced at various speeds, speaking in multiple tongues, dancing to various melodies, the tune is dense with ideas and images, where nothing remains steady and, yet, everything comes together and makes sense. One only assumes that these are the promises of the hackneyed term "free jazz."
This is, indeed, music free of genre restrictions, free of expectations and, if the listener is willing to participate, free to various possibilities. Along with "Flip," there are meditative pieces like "Mt. Harissa" and "Careless Love," the slight agitations of "Right Before Your Very Ears," the angular fun of "San Francisco Holiday," as well as the propulsive joys of "Fly With the Wind," and "All of This is Yours." Though it's a cliche thing to say, Right Before Your Very Ears is one of the better albums of 2005. Guilty as charged for being silly, but, hey, we all lose our senses when we fall in love.
Personnel: Michael Blake: tenor and soprano saxophone; Ben Allison: bass; Jeff Ballard: drums.