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Brian Blade Fellowship: Perceptual

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Drummer Brian Blade has already distinguished himself in the company of jazzers Kenny Garrett, Joshua Redman, Bill Frisell and Pat Metheny, as well as pop stars Seal, Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris and Joni Mitchell. As a composer-bandleader, he unveiled a strong band concept with 1998’s Brian Blade Fellowship. This well-crafted follow-up is another bold step in that direction.

An ensemble project rather than a drummer’s showcase, Perceptual is in that Frisell-Metheny postmodern mode of highly personalized music that draws on elements outside jazz while not abandoning the cause of improvisation. Each tune takes the listener on an adventure, unfolding gradually and gracefully as Blade mirrors the shifting dynamic textures with his inimitable melodic touch on the kit.

Pianist Jon Cowherd brings a cascading Lyle Mays sensibility to pieces like Blade’s “Evinrude-Fifty (Trembling)” or his own fragile ballad “Reconciliation,” underscored by the drummer’s gentle brushwork and coloristic cymbal playing. Guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel brings a rich harmonic palette and daring single-note tendencies to Cowherd’s title track and “Crooked Creek.” David Easley tweaks the proceedings with the outest pedal steel playing since Freddie Roulette, particularly on the surging “Evinrude-Fifty (Trembling)” and “Crooked Creek,” then offers a more serene approach on Blade’s elegiac gem “Patron Saint of Girls.”

The front line of saxophonists Myron Walden and Melvin Butler represents the jazziest aspects of this septet with its robust blend. Walden’s scorching alto is prominently featured on the title track and on “Steadfast,” while tenor man Butler steps out on the middle section of the sweeping “Variations of a Bloodline” suite, then shows his more lyrical side with soprano on Cowherd’s moving “Reconciliation.” Walden is also featured on bass clarinet in a (too) brief improvisation titled “The Sunday Boys.” Special guest Joni Mitchell adds to the haunting quality of Blade’s “Steadfast.” The drummer takes a stab at vocalizing himself on the atmospheric closer, “Trembling,” which also features Daniel Lanois on pedal steel.