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.
Henry’s Boogaloo; Combobulate; Focus Pocus; Cuyahoga Valley; Strange Affair; Bills In The Bell; Bob The Bob; Malagasy; The Parting Glass.
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Chris May is a senior editor of All About Jazz and editor of the style magazine Jocks & Nerds; he was previously the editor of Black Music & Jazz Review magazine; he is Afrobeat consultant for Partisan Records and Google Arts & Culture.