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Dan Blake: Da Fé (Sunnyside)

A review of the saxophonist's fourth album as a leader

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Dan Blake: Da Fe
Cover of Da Fé by Dan Blake.

Dan Blake isn’t one to stand idly by while a world at risk, damaged by active negligence and callous indifference, sinks deeper into despair. Instead, the philanthropically minded saxophonist is seizing this opportunity to effect positive change, encouraging purposeful action(s) to combat hunger, poverty, and climate crises. 

Da Fé, Blake’s musical manifesto for activism, literally speaks “of faith.” But don’t mistake that for blind belief. Hope for a better future isn’t possible without keen awareness of the flawed present, and Blake’s music—never naïve, embracing angst and doubt—reflects a high-level understanding of that fact. Gravitas and grave danger are in the picture right from the start, as Carmen Staaf’s piano is engulfed in a foreboding sandstorm on “Prologue – A New Normal.” That performance lasts for little more than three minutes, but its importance can’t be overstated. In essence, it serves as an entryway into a world of great concern and an art imbued with intensity.

Working with Staaf, bassist Dmitry Ishenko, and drummer Jeff Williams, and often adding post-production touches with keyboardist and electronic colorist Leo Genovese, Blake channels his horns and energies into wonderfully dicey declarations. “Like Fish in Puddles” drives fear into flailing form(s). “Pain” embraces pure anguish and tuneful solemnity in near-equal proportions. “The Grifter,” nodding ever so clearly to a certain unseated power figure, puts impassioned blowing to good use. And “The Cliff,” with its catchy vamps, quirky gait, and off-kilter sentiments, stylishly teeters on the brink. There is an eventual release—on “Epilogue: It Heals Itself,” which closes things out by calling for reflection and restorative breathers—but it’s tension that best carries these messages.

Learn more about Da Fé on Amazon!

Dan Bilawsky

Dan Bilawsky has been involved in jazz journalism for 15 years. His work has appeared in JazzTimes, JAZZed, and All About Jazz, among other outlets. In addition, he’s penned liner notes for artists on Red, Capri, HighNote/Savant, Ropeadope, and other respected imprints. A band director with 20 years of teaching experience, he holds degrees in music from Indiana University, the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College, and Five Towns College.