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Michael Blake: Drift

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The titular drift of saxophonist Michael Blake’s sophomore effort might well be of the continental variety-large masses of land have parted company in less time than it took to follow up his debut release, 1997’s dazzling Kingdom of Champa. Happily, the long wait proves to have been worthwhile. Blake has once again assembled a crack band to bring to life his vividly arranged compositions, including Steven Bernstein, Ron Horton, Frank Kimbrough, Ben Allison and Matt Wilson.

Blake cut his teeth performing with John Lurie’s Lounge Lizards, a band that in recent years has retired its starched collars and skinny ties in favor of smartly pressed Joseph Aboud dashikis. Blake credits Lurie with his introduction to the music of Nigerian icon Fela Kuti, evoked in the massed horns and syncopated funk of “Afro Blake.” Blake’s keening soprano and the hopped-up double-time climax of “Toque,” a tribute to Malian diva Oumou Sangare, offer a brief, scintillating taste of the hypnotic juju the Lizards conjure live.

Elsewhere, Blake demonstrates that the jazz tradition is a palette, not a straightjacket. Everything is fair game for adaptation, from Ellington (“The Creep”) and Mingus (the second episode in the “Duty Free Suite”) to Bitches Brew-era Miles (the spacey opening of the title track) and the ethnic appropriations of ’90s downtown jazz (“Mean as a Swan”). Neither reverent nor self-consciously ironic, Blake borrows whatever he needs from either extreme to synthesize an impressive and original voice. Here’s hoping the next installment takes less than another tick of the geological clock to arrive.