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There is a conversation going on in jazz these days, and I’m not referring to the debate as to whether Ken Burns is the anti-Christ. I also am not referring to apparent contention raised by the PBS wonderboy that jazz, although dead (since 1962), makes a nice museum piece. The conversation I am refering to is the one carried on between musicians who are burdened by the entire weight of 100 years of recorded jazz history. It’s no wonder that they either play jazz as repertory music (Mingus Big Band), as background sound (smooth jazz), or as the militant avant-garde, thus eliminating most listeners. To be an individual in modern music so often involves the resolve not to be popular.
But you don’t get that feeling from the music of trumpeter Rob Blakeslee. His free-bop associations involve a disciplined avant leaning without alienation of the listener. This date is his second for Louie Records. The band has remained unchanged except for the substitution of trombonist Michael Vlatkovich for the 1999 Waterloo Ice House tenor saxophonist Rich Halley. Both Blakeslee and Vlatkovich have made their way through the West Coast improv scene recording for Vinny Golia’s Nine Winds label. Bassist Clyde Reed and label chief/drummer Dave Storrs rounds out the quartet heard here. Both are active free-form artists, Reed with the New Orchestra Workshop and Storrs in his many incarnations solo and with The Tone Sharks, Boundary Issues, and Lil’ Big Boy.
This remarkable quartet carries on the conversation referred to above, with an earnest tone, but without the serious sad young men approach. Blakeslee is a reincarnation of Don Cherry and Lester Bowie. He can run fast lines or dribble gutbucket chum. His compositions for Last Minute Gifts are open enough for interpretation yet written with a natural structure. They propel themselves sometimes by the bass/drum rhythm duo, other time through the sheer intensity of a soloist. Vlatkovich is a perfect counterbalance for Blakeslee. He plays grand long lines, tracks the trumpeter note for note, or rasps a vocal trombone conversation with the leader. Drummer Storrs has a way of time keeping beyond his drumheads with brushwork and cymbal rides, something like Miles Davis playing as few notes as possible. Storr’s silence has a pulse all it’s own.
This quartet carries on the ongoing colloquy of modern jazz. They do so with life/music affirming passion. Jazz isn’t dead and it doesn’t smell funny. It just continues to grow and foster energy below the radar of the uninformed. Available from Louie Records .