Mack Avenue Records
Tenor saxophonist Ron Blake's Sonic Tonic (Mack Avenue) is a well-crafted exercise in buttoned-down modern jazz. The CD, produced by Meshell Ndegeo-cello, is laced with enough stylistic wrinkles to keep things interesting: the title track's CTI-esque organ-based funk, the calypso-inspired "Tom Blake (Revisited)" and the Latin-tinged "Chasing the Sun," to name a few. There's nothing distinctive about Blake's solo style. He's a plain-spoken, funky melodist with ample chops, not much different from many other mainstream saxophonists.
A sensitive player, Blake plays the heck out of a lovely melody like "The Windmills of Your Mind." Among Blake's sidemen are the pianist Michael Cain (whose playing resembles Keith Jarrett's, albeit with a somewhat harder edge) and the strong and versatile drummer Terreon Gully. It's not a wildly challenging listen, but then jazz doesn't always have to be brain surgery. It has a lot of heart, and that's a good thing.