Oliver Lake boasts a type of career that says, "Been there, done that, got the T-shirt to prove it." Thoroughly schooled; taught school himself; began his recording career in 1971; left an indelible impression on jazz with his World Saxophone Quartet (mid-'70s to mid-'90s); has played and toured with everyone that sprouted in the avant-garden; even led a reggae-flavored band in the '80s; knows how to secure grants frequently; and now, at age 61, at the top of his form, he shows off his new 17-piece band and corresponding CD, Cloth (Passin' Thru).
Too bad he doesn't credit the soloists sprinkled throughout his arrangements. Of the eight tracks, seven are Lake originals. The only exception is (are you ready for this) is a hip-hop tune by Mystikal called "Bouncin' Back," which reinforces Lake's unpredictability. The band is the ideal vehicle for his juxtaposition of straightahead swing and the kind of energy that comes from the sun (Ra). Take "Creole Talkin'," for example: A retro head straight from the '30s, rudely interrupted by total anarchy. That kind of cross-stitching typifies Cloth: well-stitched section writing, totally free passages and fine solo statements. Lake's alto also alternates between the mild and the wild, and it's mostly great; sometimes, however, it's just grate.