If one thing characterizes altoist Oliver Lake as an artist, it may be his perpetual state of flux, or at least his outright dedication to examine all known sub-genres of jazz. From driving hard-bop and high-energy free-skronk to fusion and post-modern chamber-jazz, there’s barely a region Lake’s left unexplored. It’s no surprise, then, that his new recording, Makin’ It, devours traditional organ jazz and regurgitates it into something unique, something wholly Lake-ian.
Although this trio doesn’t fly into the outer atmosphere like some of Lake’s other ensembles, it is nonetheless a fresh breath of air in an otherwise generally stale format. Abetted by the muscular swing of Johnathan Blake (a frequent collaborator with Tom Harrell, Russell Malone, Kenny Barron and Avishai Cohen) and the warm pulse of Jared Gold’s B3, Lake’s seven compositions run the gamut from the jaunty, uplifting funk of “Say Girl” to the stuttering, staccato slither of “Move Groove.” “Dedicated to B.C.” (Benny Carter, not Lake’s longtime BAG foil Baikida Carroll) may be the only misstep here, with its clichéd rhythms and melody never truly developing into anything provocative.
The late Malachi Thompson contributes two pieces, the jubilant “In Walked John” and “Spirit of Man,” which could have been the theme from a lost ’70s African-American sitcom. The title track features some of Lake’s more skittish playing before resolving with an astounding Blake solo imbued with crisp cymbal patterns and resonant tom work. Relative newcomer Gold—who’s played with Dave Stryker and John Abercrombie—supplies bubbly solos while keeping the bass notes solid and steady. Whereas other bandleaders might be content to devolve into banal groove, Lake takes the form and successfully redefines it.