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Bassist Alex Blake, though an experienced virtuoso, has released only two records under his own name. Now Is The Time is his first disc released outside Japan. It's not as if Blake hasn't been around the block: he toured with Sun Ra at the age of 16, and has recently been working with Randy Weston and Pharoah Sanders.
Now Is The Time documents a recent show at the Knitting Factory, and it retains a very dynamic "live" feel. Blake's quintet recalls the energy and fluidity of '60s jazz. It dwells largely within fixed harmonic constraints, but toys endlessly with the possibilities available to soloists. Sanders, of course, is a veteran of that era, and he performs a dual purpose in the group: articulately delivering melodic lines and also taking regular voyages "out" into overblown harmonic space. Blake himself largely divides his energy between exceptionally fluid walking basslines and virtuostic soloing (occasionally accompanied by Jarrett-esque vocalizations).
In fact, one of the most attractive features of Now is the way the music can turn on a dime between swinging bop, free jazz, and jazz-rock fusion. Musical literacy is not an issue here: occasional nods to the canon abound. For example, "On the Spot" builds off the first five notes of Coltrane's "Giant Steps" and takes the theme in an entirely different direction. Don't go into Now without an open ear for surprise and humorthese are serious musicians, but they aren't afraid to play around a bit.
Track Listing: On the Spot; The Chief (intro--Neil Clark); The Chief; With a Little Help; Now Is The Time (intro--Alex Blake); Now Is The Time; Mystery of Love.
Personnel: Alex Blake, bass; Pharoah Sanders: saxophone; John Hicks, piano; Victor Jones, drums; Neil Clark, percussion.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.