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Johnathan Blake: Passage

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Johnathan Blake: Passage
The drummer Johnathan Blake was born in Philadelphia in 1976. His father was the esteemed jazz violinist and educator John Blake Jr. who played in many diverse settings, (most notably Archie Shepp and McCoy Tyner), before releasing seven albums under his name. He died in 2014. Blake (the son) began studying music at a young age, later attending William Paterson University studying with Rufus Reid and Steve Wilson. He eventually received a master's in composition at Rutgers University where he worked with Stanley Cowell and Ralph Bowen. In 2006, he received the ASCAP Young Composers Award. The list of musicians he was worked with over the years is as diverse as it is long.

A technically masterful drummer with an innovative and exploring outlook, Passage is his second release for the Blue Note label and fifth overall. The album is dedicated to his father, whose photo graces the front cover. On it, he continues with the band Pentad he assembled for his previous album Homeward Bound (Blue Note, 2021). The rhythm section includes Blake, Dezron Douglas, whose bass presence saturates each track, and Cuban-born keyboardist David Virelles on piano and keyboards. Fellow label mates Immanuel Wilkins on alto sax and Joel Ross on vibes complete the multigenerational quintet.

Like many jazz musicians of the last few generations, the various sounds, genres and styles of modern music have permeated Blake's musical sensibilities and vision. This release incorporates many of those changes of styles, structures and tempos into a cohesive album. The record begins with "Lament For Lo" a minute-plus drum solo where Blake explores, much like Max Roach, the lower range and sounds of the tom-tom.

"Passage," up next, was written by his father and is perhaps the best track on the album. It starts with the rhythm section setting out a groove before slowing into a lovely melody spearheaded by Wilkins' lyrical alto and Ross' vibes. The sound the two men create together is often ethereal. The tune has several sections and tempo changes that allow Wilkins and Virelles to sparkle. Blake and Douglas are a powerful force pushing the composition forward.

"Muna & Johna's Playtime" begins reminiscent of Eberhard Weber & Colours' sound. The alto then plays the lilting melody before Virelles on double-tracked piano and MiniMoog enter, where they trade solos. Ross' vibes underpin the sound before getting his extended chance to improvise.

"Groundhog Day" feels like a thematic look at everyday life. It starts with a Thelonious Monk-type angular piano intro before the band kicks everything up a notch. The alto explores the chaos of the day, while the vibes and keyboards keep everything in check before coming back to the head. As the song continues, everything calms down, like the end of one day before getting ready for the next.

"Tears I Cannot Hide" is a sweet, tender ballad written by the late Ralph Peterson Jr. Stating the melody of the song's lament, Wilkins and Ross show once again how well their styles blend together. Virelles on Fender Rhodes adds to the beauty of the tune. "Out of Sight, Out of Mind" showcases Ross in this slow, pensive composition with the rhythm section providing gentle support.

"West Berkley St." closes the album. It is a breezy, up-tempo tune reminiscent of Archie Bell & The Drells "Tighten Up." It has the overall feel of something his father's old band leader, Grover Washington, Jr., might have recorded. It is Virelles' piano work that makes the track more than just a happy, pleasant tribute to Blake's dad, who has several of his voicemails included as the song winds down.

A word is needed to mention Don Was' production. The sound and mix are spectacular. As a bassist himself, Was has made Douglas' sound thick, juicy and upfront, while Blake himself is always the catalyst, though content to conduct the band in a humble manner. This is a very good record with great musicianship. It is a solid addition to Blake's catalog as his journey moves from an in-demand sideman to being a fully formed band leader.

Track Listing

Lament For Lo; Passage; Muna & Johna’s Playtime; Tiempos; Groundhog Day; Tears I Cannot Hide; A Slight Taste (Dez Intro); A Slight Taste; Out of Sight, Out of Mind; West Berkley St..

Personnel

Album information

Title: Passage | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Blue Note Records


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