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Michael Blake: Right Before Your Very Ears

Michael McCaw By

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Opening with an overblown tenor sound that nearly causes your stereo system to clip, Right Before Your Very Ears marks a departure for Michael Blake, especially from his earlier output. Recorded in Brooklyn following a European tour which culminated at Portugal's Coimbra Jazz Festival, the album is comprised entirely of first takes (save for "Fly With The Wind ) intended to force everyone into the moment and inspire some of the magic often created in the sax trio format. The results are decidedly rawer and carry an insurgent message of established creative musicians pushing themselves.

Fellow Jazz Composers Collective co-founders Ben Allison and Jeff Ballard round out the trio, demonstrating the rapport and flow that they have cultivated during years of performances and various recording projects, including Allison's Medicine Wheel and the Herbie Nichols Project. Throughout, independently and collectively, the three have documented some of the finest modern mainstream jazz in recent years. And although the end result has a decidedly more freewheeling feel than anything they have recorded together thus far, it is a direct extension of their established rapport.

Dictating directions and rhythms, Allison is more participatory and engaged in the flow of the improviser here than he is normally on record. And while Ballard has recorded in this format before (the expansive Fly, on Savoy), he too sounds like he's exploring his space more than usual. No one is in a comfort zone. Even on the more subdued performances, like "Mt. Harissa or "Careless Love, listeners feel as if they are in the moment—a credit to engineer Andy Taub.

"Careless Love in particular shines with a feeling of exuberance contained in ballad form. Ballard's drums have a dry kick to their sound, in contrast to Blake's robust and breathy tenor and Allison's resonating tone. Midway through, Allison and Ballard drop out from the blues figure, leaving Blake and his tenor to exhort everything he can from the song and form—in the same lineage as someone like Coleman Hawkins or Ben Webster, but with his own voice.

The agitated "Flip opens up with Ballard and Blake working in tandem through various phrases, eventually building them into fragments of a theme with Blake playing with a throaty sound of concerted effort and release. Meanwhile Allison emerges from behind the two and fills the gaps between with vignettes that bridge everything together. As they move into a less stressed and more elongated mode, Blake and Allison take the fore and create a dialogue that builds into the next section of the performance. This is music that calls attention to itself. Not because it is overbearing, but because the three are listening to one another and responding in kind.

This recording is more than a simple saxophone trio album of originals plus standard, the three cover territory that spans a wide swath of modern jazz, developing a collective sound derived from both sketches and open compositions. Right Before Your Very Eyes is an interesting addition to the collective's catalog and a very strong record.


Track Listing: Run for Cover; Funhouse; Mt. Harissa; Right Before Your Very Ears; Flip; Fly With the Wind; San Francisco Holiday; All of This is Yours; Careless Love.

Personnel: Michael Blake: tenor and soprano saxophones; Ben Allison: double bass; Jeff ballard: drums and percussion.

Title: Right Before Your Very Ears | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Clean Feed Records


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