Ron Blake: Shayari (2008)
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There's an attention to sonic detail and aural space on tenor saxophonist Ron Blake's Shayari that would be more expected from the ECM label than from Detroit's Mack Avenue Records. But Mack Avenue, through Blake and his producer/pianist Michael Cain, has given us a CD strong on tone and mood, intimate and introverted without being lightweight or insubstantial. The intimacy flows from the instrumentation: All the tracks are trios save for three duos, and all but one scant-minute track feature tenor sax and piano.
There is a lived-in feel about this record as well, as Blake revisits some of his earlier compositions in a more ruminative frame of mind, such as "Waltz for Gwen," with hand percussion (Jack DeJohnette or Gilmar Gomes) shading the leader's dry, urbane sax tone. "Of Kindred Souls," originally recorded with Roy Hargrove's band, becomes a conversational trio with Regina Carter's violin joining tenor sax and piano. A heavier spiritual vibe informs "Atonement," tenor soloing over a fraught piano ostinato and DeJohnette's bundled sticks on cymbals, and "Hanuman," where Blake's tenor becomes surprisingly staccato over toms and rumbling piano.
But for the most part, Blake's tenor is dry and airy, with a yearning tone akin to polite Coltrane. Emotions here are definitely subdued. Ivan Lins' "The Island," with Gomes punctuating on frame drum, is breezily seductive; Christian McBride's bass brings smooth swing to Bobby Hutcherson's "Teddy and the tenor/piano duet on "Please Be Kind the only American pop standardis a model of easy grace.
Track Listing: Waltz for Gwen; Atonement; Come Sun; Hanuman; What Is Your Prayer For?; Of Kindred Souls; Please Be Kind; 76; Remember the Rain; The Island; Teddy; Abhaari (Pt. I); Abhaari (Pt. II).
Personnel: Ron Blake: tenor saxophone; Michael Cain: piano; Regina Carter: violin (6); Jack DeJohnette: drums (2, 4, 8, 12, 13); Gilmar Gomes: percussion (1, 3, 10); Christian McBride: bass (5, 11).
Record Label: Mack Avenue Records