Saxophonist and Jazz Composers Collective member Michael Blake, whose prior associations include the Lounge Lizards, has assembled a relatively mainstream project for Elevated that nevertheless intrigues the listener and stretches the musical frame. Blake's ensemble for the date includes fellow Collectivists pianist Frank Kimbrough, bassist Ben Allison and drummer Mike Mazor. Dark harmonies and minor modes prevail here, and yet the overall effect is light and spacious.
Blake's stylistic range is broad, but stemming from Coltrane: there are hints of Eddie Harris, a wonderful tribute to Lucky Thompson ("Lucky Charms") and a nod to Rahsaan Roland Kirk with some deft two-horns-at-once action. Blake works his dark musings over ostinatos and simple harmonic figures, as well as more complex structures: he always seems focused on the melodic implications of his playing, and the interplay of the rhythm section is geared toward that linear motion-a relaxed, rolling walk, by and large. A key exception would be "Merle the Pearl," with the crisp energy and harmonic flow of a Dave Holland composition.
The set's finale, "New Blues, Old News," with its 9/8 feel and warm languor, draws a very comfortable conclusion to a recital that affirms the reputations both of Blake and the Jazz Composers Collective.