Seamus Blake displays impressive talent as a tenor saxophonist, composer and leader on Live in Italy, a double CD documenting his quartet's tour through various cities in 2007, where audiences were treated to an eclectic blend of dynamic originals and standards.
Originals like "The Jupiter Line," "Way Out of Willy" and "Fear of Roaming" favor the bop genre. Blake's tone is clean, with uncluttered lines and robust phrases. The band works off the themes and branches out to sophisticated straight-ahead lines, where pianist David Kikoski, bassist Danton Boller and drummer Rodney Green play vigorously behind Blake. Many jazz re-workings of classical tunes tend to favor driving, up-tempo variations, but Blake's ambitious arrangement of Debussy's "String Quartet in G minor" is surprisingly measured and affecting.
The band plays Duke Ellington's "The Feeling of Jazz" at perfect pitch, with Blake blowing his blues riffs passionately, touching the strident upper register. Kikoski's "Spacing" is a daringly impressionistic flirtation with free music; the dialogue between Blake and Kikoski is crisp as they build on each other's ideas. Green and Boller thrash and brood alongside their band mates and the tune quickly becomes a spirited debate. And the band is undaunted by the chord changes in guitarist John Scofield's "Dance Me Home," another wicked tune driven by Kikoski's brilliant playing. If something must be quarreled with here, it's the use of electronic enhancements in a few songs, such as echo chambers and wah-wah pedals. Their appearance, although sporadic, is a distraction. But this is a minor quibble. Otherwise Live in Italy is an excellent disc.
CD1: The Jupiter Line; Way Out of Willy; String Quartet in G Minor; Fear of Roaming. CD2: The Feeling of Jazz; Spacing; Ladeirinha; Darn That Dream; Dance Me Home.
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