Lest We Forget
Mack Avenue Records
Saxophonist Ron Blake's nicely varied new set mixes and matches several styles, among them soul-jazz, blues, hard bop and funk. Blake sometimes plays in a soothing, lyrical fashion but proves equally compelling when doing more challenging material like "Minor Chant," exploring Afro-Latin themes on "Asalto Navideno" or simply stretching out on straight pop tunes like the sparkling cover of the Spiral Starecase's "More Today Than Yesterday." Unfortunately, the group's rendition of Grover Washington Jr.'s "Mister Magic" ranks among the date's lesser entries. Blake's solo here lacks either the swirling authority or fervor of Washington's original and comes off as an amiable, less interesting tribute effort. Still, that's almost his lone misstep. Blake provides a blazing, vibrant and engaging solo on "Mighty Burner," and otherwise offers consistently thoughtful, well developed, nicely executed playing on almost every other entry.
Organist Joey DeFrancesco's assistance and solos combine pithy licks with rhythmic fire, while bassist Christian McBride and drummer Greg Hutchinson are outstanding irrespective of context. They mesh effectively with DeFrancesco, who's freed to display his own solo abilities without being concerned about rhythm section dynamics.
Lest We Forget adeptly straddles categories without sacrificing musical integrity or quality. It's a rare example of a populist jazz record that might attract new fans without alienating old ones or purists.