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Album Review

Michael Blake: Combobulate

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Michael Blake: Combobulate
The instrumentation alone promises something out of the ordinary. Saxophone, two tubas, trumpet, trombone, drums. Then there are the musicians, luminaries of downtown New York jazz. Michael Blake, Bob Stewart, Marcus Rojas, Steven Bernstein, Clark Gayton, Allan Mednard. And within seconds of the needle descending on track one, side one, Combobulate starts delivering on the promise.

The album is one of four marking the return of audiophile-vinyl label Newvelle after a two-year hiatus. The approximate meaning of its title is: a combination of elements using equal parts abandon and cohesion. The album's provenance is the outward-facing downtown tradition forged by the Lounge Lizards in the late 1970s and developed by them through the late 1990s. Indeed, Michael Blake, Steven Bernstein and Clark Gayton were members of the Lizards, whose co-founder, John Lurie, wrote "Bob The Bob," one of the tunes on Combobulate.

Of the remaining tracks, six were written by Michael Blake, another by Roland Blake and the last, the closer, "The Parting Glass," is traditional. The breadth of the music spans boogaloo through bop and on to hip hop, touching on many points in between. It is an ensemble affair, built around consciously rough-edged arrangements out of which the musicians break to take brief solos. Blake, on tenor and soprano saxophones and flute, is the most frequent soloist, but the others get their turns centerstage, too. There is a taste on the YouTube clip below.

The liner notes talk about a "profusion of music," an "eruption," a "celebration," and observe that New York is "still a crucible." As a cultural melting pot, the city is equalled by London, but there is something unmistakably New York about this joyous disc. Highly recommended.

Postscript: Combobulate puts one in mind of another New York melting-pot album, alto saxophonist Arthur Blythe's chef d'oeuvre, Lenox Avenue Breakdown (Columbia, 1979), although the influences there were drawn from a more precisely focused area north of 110th Street, a more significant border crossing in the 1970s than it is in the 2020s. Coincidentally, but perfectly, while Blythe used bassist Cecil McBee onLenox Avenue Breakdown, he also had a tuba player... Bob Stewart. Unbroken the circle is.

Track Listing

Henry’s Boogaloo; Combobulate; Focus Pocus; Cuyahoga Valley; Strange Affair; Bills In The Bell; Bob The Bob; Malagasy; The Parting Glass.

Personnel

Michael Blake: saxophone, tenor; Bob Stewart: tuba; Marcus Rojas: tuba; Steven Bernstein: trumpet; Clark Gayton: trombone; Allan Mednard: drums.

Additional Instrumentation

Michael Blake: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute.

Album information

Title: Combobulate | Year Released: 2022 | Record Label: Newvelle Records

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