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May 2008

Brian Blade Fellowship
Season of Changes
Verve

Hugely celebrated as a drummer, Brian Blade has never really received his due as a composer and bandleader. If Season of Changes changes anything, let it be that. The new album arrives 10 years after the Fellowship’s eponymous debut and ends an eight-year gap since Perceptual, the band’s 2000 sophomore release. At 46 minutes, it’s the shortest of the three Fellowship outings thus far, a relief at a time when overlong CDs are common. Blade and pianist/coproducer Jon Cowherd deliver this long-awaited dose of sound poetry with the intact Perceptual lineup, save for pedal steel player Dave Easley. The septet has shrunk to a sextet, and something in the band’s aural fingerprint is lost, though guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel fills the gaps with expansive lyricism and searing solos, particularly on Cowherd’s two pieces, “Season of Changes” and “Return of the Prodigal Son.” (Blade has omitted guitar altogether on some recent live gigs.)

The Fellowship interacts like a jazz group even as it purveys a monumental, suitelike sensibility, with complex forms, big narrative arcs and a prevailing folk-rock melancholy. “Most Precious One (Prodigy)” falls into a stomping 4/4 beat as Cowherd underscores a fragmented guitar texture with Moog effects. Myron Walden, on bass clarinet, thickens the theme of “Rubylou’s Lullaby,” and meshes with Cowherd’s pump organ on “Alpha and Omega,” which is prefaced by a four-minute “Improvisation” for just the two instruments. On alto, Walden remains the band’s most intense soloist, stretching furiously on the concluding “Omni.”

Originally published in May 2008
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