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Michael Blake: Right Before Your Very Ears

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The shrill opening blast of tenor saxophone, like a wailing-woman mourner, announces that Right Before Your Very Ears is a departure for saxophonist Michael Blake. Visceral and immediate, the emphasis is on the playing, especially Blake's, in the stripped-down sax plus rhythm setting.

This is the first document of Blake's working trio with bassist Ben Allison and drummer Jeff Ballard, players with a long and intertwined history. Their familiarity brings focus to the loose arrangements and copious improvisations that Blake had in mind. Recorded after touring, the performances are confident and spontaneity was fostered in the studio by cutting mostly first takes. The live feel is enhanced by the raw production.

After igniting the extemporaneous "Run for Cover, with its manic blowing and tumbling rhythms tempered by hushed moments, the trio tests "Funhouse. An oldie from the Blake songbook making its recorded debut, its wry melody is buoyed by Ballard's swinging groove punctuated with off-kilter fills. Its sketched form allows the trio to stretch, including a quasi-walking but still melodic solo from Allison and Ballard's run that implies the form and maintains the momentum as he rolls around the kit.

The episodic "Flip is propelled by rhythmic inventiveness. After a slack section featuring Blake's note-twisting, breathy runs—at times in clever unison with Allison—the bass and drums slide into a locomotive feel that carries Blake's punchy, infectious line. The rapport among the trio is obvious and the flowing shifts of theme preclude redundancy and predictability. For instance, "All of this is Yours takes several twists of feel—from impressionistic to grooving—while Blake's yearning tenor displays the emotiveness that has always given his music depth and resonance.


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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