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Ron Blake: Sonic Tonic

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Sax man Ron Blake tapped various sources and influences for Sonic Tonic, most prominent of which involve his Caribbean roots. This album, expertly produced by Me'Shell NdegéOcello, also explores various other genres, and few beats are missed in the execution.

The opening "Invocation, a tune in the finest tradition of John Coltrane's most spiritual works, is not as overwhelming or guttural, but certainly no less passionate. It begins with Christian McBride's hypnotic bass line and marches on with Blake's strong but not overstated tenor. Michael Cain's piano solo is later complemented by Blake on soprano, McBride anchoring the groove. "Chasing the Sun is a light, up-tempo tune with a restless melody. As Blake explores the harmony, Cain does double duty on keyboards, drummer Terreon Gully percolating beneath David Gilmore's spitfire electric guitar solo.

"Dance of Passion, a Johnny Griffin tune, has a Middle Eastern melody that seems heavily influenced by "Caravan. The core group is augmented here by two not terribly common instruments in jazz: Vincent Chancey's French horn and Marcus Rojas' tuba. Josh Roseman's New Orleans growling on the trombone gives the tune a nice brass gumbo.

Blake plays his most seductive tenor on "The Windmills of Your Mind, with Gully's cymbal work providing a dramatic backdrop. On "Shades of Brown he expertly economizes where other sax players might have used honking, screeching or wailing to belabor their points. The title cut and "Tom Blake (revisited) are Caribbean-influenced, the former featuring a low down electric bass groove by Reuben Rogers, Cain's brewing organ, and soaring trumpet by Sean Jones.

Blake, making his tenor almost as tender as a soprano, does a fine job with Cain on "Pure Imagination, a tune that in recent years has evolved into a jazz standard. The disc comes full circle with a variation on the opening "Invocation, with Pedro Martinez on congas. This is one of the more spirited tunes on the disc, and it improves considerably on the original.

Note: a two-CD limited edition of Sonic Tonic is also available, featuring hip-hop-inflected remixes of several of these songs.

Track Listing: Invocation; Chasing the Sun; Your Warm Embrace; Dance of Passion; The Windmills of Your Mind; Shades of Brown; Sonic Tonic; Tom Blake (Revisited); Pure Imagination; Pissarro's Floor; Invocation (Dance of Fire)

Personnel: Ron Blake (tenor & soprano saxophone, flute); Michael Cain (piano, keyboards); Christian McBride (bass); Chris Dave (drums); Terreon Gully (drums); David Gilmore (guitar); Reuben Rogers (electric bass); Josh Roseman (trombone); Gilmar Gomes (percussion); Vincent Chauncey (french horn); Marcus Rojas (tuba); Sean Jones (flugelhorn); Greg Hutchinson (drums); Pedro Martinez (congas)

Title: Sonic Tonic | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Mack Avenue Records

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