While composing and arranging new music is Michael Blake's main motive, this timely Knitting Factory Records debut release, Elevated, by the Brooklyn based saxophonist offers listeners the first opportunity to hear him in a traditional setting. Blake's original compositions exist in the spiritual roots of jazz but his concept points in new directions. The ever-percussive bassist Ben Allison and visionary pianist Frank Kimbrough join drummer Mike Mazor to provide Blake's luscious tenor and soprano saxophone room to ascend. Elevated is rich with hypnotic bass lines, chant like melodies and sultry grooves. From the swirling loop of the title track to the melancholy laden Lucky Charms" (a nod to saxophonist Lucky Thompson), Blake's set presents an ethereal blend of East meets West. While visualizing an airport image for the cover art (the JFK TWA terminal) and song titles like In the Arms of Ali" months before 9/11, he had no idea how haunting they would become.
This heartfelt collaboration distinguishes Blake and his cohorts from the headstrong technicians of their generation. The saxophonist is clearly carving out a unique approach that mixes the mellow restraint of Lester Young with the spiritual vibrancy of Pharoah Sanders. Blake can be heard playing both horns at once, ala Roland Kirk, on the dreamy tone poem Old News, New Blues" and the only cover; a rendition of Abdullah Ibrahim's track for Claire Denis' film No Fear, No Die".
This is the first meeting of the Jazz Composers Collective, of which Blake is a mainstay, with the Knit. Blake, a recognized composer and visionary, made his name with his 10 year tenure with John Lurie and the Lounge Lizards and numerous appearances with downtowners like Dave Tronzo and Steve Bernstein (Sex Mob) as well as working with producers, Prince Paul, Tricky, Scott Harding (MMW) and jazz legend Teo Macero. In addition to have co-lead Slow Poke, Last year his ensemble, Free Association , was awarded the prestigious Doris Duke Jazz Ensemble’s Project Grant , from Chamber Music America. Elevated is destined to take the Blake train to new heights.
“...exotic, sensuous. He’s assembled an exuberant group of emerging New York players...their diversity emphasizes the saxophonist’s versatility and flair for melodic improvisations.” -Jon Andrews, Downbeat (August 2001)
“Neither reverent nor self-consiously ironic, Blake borrows whatever he needs from either extreme to synthesize an impressive and original voice.” -Steve Smith, Jazztimes (June 2001)
“Blake’s vision bristles with colors, textures and mystery.” -Neil Tesser, Playboy
“The saxophonist/leader is a double-horned wonder.” -Village Voice
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