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The health of an organism is its ability to reproduce and a fine example of jazz's continued vitality is heard on drummer Johnathan Blake's The Eleventh Hour. The debut's excellence comes as no surprise, though. This son of violinist John Blake Jr is already carving his name as a young rhythmic dynamo whose growing credits include work with the Mingus Big Band, trumpeter Tom Harrell and guitarist Russell Malone.
With a frenzied schedule of gigs on other artists' projects, Blake has found time to lead his own band, documented here with an extremely hot quintet of longtime associates, including the supreme sax duo of Mark Turner and Jaleel Shaw, bassist Ben Street and newcomer to the group, pianist Kevin Hayes. Add flavorful guests such harmonicist Gregoire Maret and pianist Robert Glasper on Fender Rhodes to the all-star roster and the delayed release (originally completed in 2010) has plenty of potential. But to put a twist on an iconic saying "The names don't mean a thing if the music ain't got that swing," this is definitely not the case for this extraordinary debut.
Blake's two opening pieces are formidable. The title track opens with a lo-fi drum intro, and then unfolds with a nimble groove featuring harmonica and keyboard accents, plus beautiful serpentine solos from Turner and Maret. Blake works masterfully with stylish rim shots and flurried scissoring, always adding a creative stamp to the process. "Rio's Dream" has a nice melodic hook with spiraling harmonies, Hayes' searching piano work, and Shaw's fiery proclamation. The pieces not only have stylistic impetus but also leave memorable songlike imprints.
The question of whether or not the music swings is answered in Harrell's bopping "Blue News," where the trumpeter also contributes his glowing horn and the soloists freely explore, as Blake's kit and Street's walking bass line hold the rhythm tight. Blake also affirms this characteristic via his own writing skills on "Of Things To Come," with another exhausting cadence and detailed changes attributed to his early training on piano and violin.
Unusual avenues are traveled in "No Left Turn," with its thought-provoking pacing and alluring yet abstract qualities, as is "Clues," a deconstructed take on Thelonious Monk's "Evidence" where Blake trades blistering beats within an already difficult tempo. The music ends with Glasper's "Canvas," the essence of soulfulness and modernism as Glasper and Maret exchange intricate ideas. Blake's The Eleventh Hour might have been delayed but the music is right on time.
Track Listing: The Eleventh Hour; Rio's Dream; Blue News; Dexter's Tune; Time To Kill; Of Things To Come; Freefall; No Left Turn; Clues; Canvas.
Personnel: Johnathan Blake: drums; Mark Turner: tenor saxophone (1-4, 6-10); Jaleel Shaw: alto saxophone (1, 2, 5-7, 9); Ben Street: bass; Kevin Hayes: piano, Fender Rhodes (2-4, 7-9); Gregoire Maret: harmonica (1, 10); Robert Glasper: piano; Fender Rhodes (1, 5, 10); Timothy Warfield: tenor saxophone (8); Tom Harrell (3, 5).
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.