Saxophonist/composer Michael Blake has led an array of unique projects. His latest CD, Blake Tartare, finds him fronting a quartet with young Danish improvisers Soren Kjaergaard on Fender Rhodes and piano, Jonas Westergaard on bass, and Kresten Osgood on drums. The small group pushes Blake’s horn to the forefront, while the sparse arrangements have a fluidity that is loose without being sloppy.
The short and quiet “Flipper” opens the set, its spacious melody and gentle rhythm section accompaniment foreshadowing what follows. A somber repetitive keyboard riff sets up “Lemmy Caution,” which features Blake’s emotive playing over a medium tempo—the kind of tune he can dig into and explore. His yearning tenor saxophone solo is punctuated by guest guitarist Teddy Kumpel’s stabbing licks and Osgood’s flourishes. Similarly, “Messy Business” starts off unhurried and contemplative, until the psychedelic keyboards signal a break into a feel-good funky groove for Blake’s soprano solo and Kumpel’s turn, which then devolves to the opening introspection.
A repeating saxophone line and quasi-Latin groove build the quick ditty “Cuban Sandwich,” and provide a platform for Kjaergaard’s fleet piano work. A rhythmic base is also the key to “Feast.” This time, the bass and drums lock into a tenacious West African shuffle—a favorite of Blake’s—acting as the springboard for a growling tenor solo and a twangy guitar run. The beautiful Sun Ra tune “Languidity” is a vehicle for Blake’s soulful side and lyrical solo lines. An ambitious cover of Mingus’ “Meditation” allows Westergaard to display his bowed bass technique to achieve the tune’s spooky vibe. Two Blake originals testing quieter dynamics and atmospheric, textured support of the mournful melodies conclude the CD.
Blake Tartare organically covers a range of stylistic territory, unfolding narratively through the course of the CD. It is another convincing musical statement, well supported by Blake’s finely chosen cast.