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Michael Blake: The World Awakes: A Tribute to Eli “Lucky” Thompson

Paying affectionate homage to bygone greats is a tricky business, especially when it comes to an artist in the line of jazz duty who rolled with stylistic changes and abided by the dictum that jazz is inherently a progressive music, but with firm traditional roots. Michael Blake’s nod to saxophonist-deserving-wider-recognition “Lucky” Thompson, with a bold and sensitive group of Danish players, is a fine role model of how to do the right thing. Thompson (1924-2005) spanned the eras of swing, bebop and beyond, was self-exiled from what he found a racist music business for years, and generally is an artist waiting for history to catch up to him.

For his tribute record, Blake plays tenor, clarinet and also soprano sax, the tool which Thompson mastered, inspiring Coltrane to pick up the instrument. Blake wrote the vintage-waxing opening tune, “Lucky Charms” (“charms” as both verb and noun) and also the funk-lined but intuitively smart “Scratch,” including a smattering of Thompson’s own words re: the sorry fate of the artist.

Thompson’s own tunes, making up the bulk of the set here, are deceptively clean and simple. On this selected sampling, the Thompson touch ranges from the friendly swinging sashay of “Reminiscent” to the querulous title track (here warmed over by a small string ensemble and a slow-meets-fast, suite-like arrangement), to the lush ballad “To You Dear One.” Thompson’s sinuous boppish tune “Little Tenderfoot” is heard in two versions: in the first, Blake’s tenor works out over bass, before the added horns thicken the harmonic plot; in the second, Thompson’s transcribed solo makes a once-removed reincarnation through Blake’s horn. Duke Ellington’s “Single Petal of a Rose,” with strings and an attitude of elegance, closes the set on an urbanely graceful note.

Overall, Blake does right here by a musical hero, one whom jazz history needs to readdress.

Originally Published