Despite its unconventional instrumentation, Oliver Lake’s steel quartet is actually one of the adventurous alto saxophonist’s more conventional endeavors. The group, which features Lyndon Achee, one of the few pan steel virtuosos on the jazz scene, offers what might be called AfroCaribbean soul jazz, an accessible yet provocative blend of funk and soul jazz with tropical rhythms.
Lake has delved into Caribbean sounds before, most notably with his reggae-oriented ‘80s group Jump Up. But the current group sticks more firmly to the jazz mainstream, with its fresh interpretations of standards like Oliver Nelson’s “Stolen Moments” and Horace Silver’s “Senor Blues,” plus some fine originals by the leader. Showing his ear for a good groove wherever he can find it, Lake (whose extracurricular ventures have included work with everyone from Björk to A Tribe Called Quest) also reshapes the Mary J. Blige/Stevie Wonder hit “Time” as a funk workout.
Achee’s steel drums make an interesting, if initially unsettling, counterpoint to Lake’s searing, Dolphy-esque alto. Lake doesn’t stretch out with the daring of his World Saxophone Quartet recordings, or from his current Trio 3 efforts with Reggie Workman and Andrew Cyrille, but he does have some exciting moments here. This isn’t Oliver Lake’s best or most trailblazing offering (which would be saying a lot) but it makes for worthwhile listening.