Right Before Your Very Eyes
Saxophonist Michael Blake is one of those skilled and versatile jazz musicians comfortable in a variety of settings. These two releases highlight his range: Right Before Your Very Ears is a sax-bass-drums trio that emphasizes facets of swing and ensemble interaction; Blake Tartare is a more groove-oriented effort.
Blake's trio with long-time collaborators bassist Ben Allison and drummer Jeff Ballard flirts with freedom without actually consummating the relationship. All are superb craftsmen--thoughtful and precise, they take care to shape each gesture before sending it off into the world on its own. Allison and Ballard don't burn, but they cook. Blake is a heady player on tenor and soprano, and a talented composer. His attractive tunes give the music a rather traditional harmonic foundation, which the musicians pull and stretch but never tear apart. On the one hand, their loose adherence to form and/or structure lends the music coherence. On the other, the performances don't convey a great deal of tension or passion.
Blake Tartare is a different animal, stylistically, and a more successful album. Blake is joined by a tasty Danish rhythm section featuring an electric piano and, on one track, guitar. The group plays in various rock and jazz bags, sometimes on the same tune: "Messy Business" goes from an ethereal, "In a Silent Way"-type fusion to James Brown-ish funk and back in the span of its 10-plus minutes. Whereas Blake seems a bit reserved on the trio album, here he comes off relaxed and inspired, more inclined to cut loose--especially on the backbeat-oriented numbers, which seem to better suit his manner of phrasing. Blake is the principal soloist, though guitarist Teddy Kumpel kicks in some quirky spots on a couple of tracks.