September 1997

Michael Blake

Tenor saxophonist and composer Michael Blake’s first outing as a leader, Kingdom of Champa (Intuition), is as successful as it is ambitious. Lushly produced by Teo Macero in a style befitting its epic sweep, Champa is a challenging, multifaceted, seven-movement suite based on Blake’s experience of touring the Vietnamese countryside with his former wife, a Vietnamese-American returning home to her family for the first time since the end of the war.

F. Natalici

Michael Blake

Blake says he found the experience in Vietnam “very moving, because I felt kind of like a spectator at first, but then it became very intense. I dislocated my arm at the beach, trying to body-surf, which really pretty well shook me up and shook my Vietnamese family up. I had always travelled in bands, where you’ve got that safety net all the time. To be detached from that was a good learning experience for me.

“We were on these long, long drives that were really exhausting,” he continues. “The van was a 12-seat van with about 15 people in it. I was listening to Sketches of Spain the whole trip. I had Sketches of Spain on one side and In a Silent Way on the other. I had this realization that I was really only using about ten percent of my imagination. I hadn’t really worked on any large ensemble projects. I got back and I worked like a whirling dervish.”

After composing Champa and performing it at the Knitting Factory, Blake scored a major coup when he succeeded in attracting Macero to the project. (Blake calls Sketches of Spain “Teo’s masterpiece.”) The collaborative result, Kingdom of Champa, is a milestone of current jazz that augers well for Blake’s career above and beyond the Lounge Lizards, with whom the 32-year-old Montreal native has played since 1990.

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