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Michael Blake: In the Grand Scheme of Things

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Tenor saxophonist Michael Blake, a Canadian native who splits his time between Vancouver and Brooklyn, is never wanting for conceptual paths to take. His albums have included a reflection on his travels to Vietnam and one that processes his boyhood memories of British Columbia. In the Grand Scheme of Things, featuring Blake’s terrific Vancouver quartet, Variety Hour, conjures a bleakly beautiful landscape in a three-part mini-suite. But the dominant concept here is creating an utterly distinctive sound involving Micro-moog synthesizer and electronic washes. Always a bold texturalist, Blake may have outdone himself this time.

What’s so striking about the sound, as artfully put together as it is, is how seamless it is-how natural Chris Gestrin’s “walking” Moog lines and dark, gurgling synth harmonies can be. (Gestrin also plays Fender Rhodes.) With the superb drummer Dylan van der Schyff lending a clean edge to the textures with his deft accents and elegant grounding strokes, the music moves agreeably from the spooky-spirited, Weather Report-influenced stops on the “Road to Lusaka” to the bursting harmonies and circular swing of “Cybermonk” to the gospel touches and existential dread of “Willie (the Lonely Cowboy).” On “The Searchers,” the band opens up to engage in fractured modernism before arriving at elegiac emotion via trumpeter JC Carter’s Dave Douglas-like solo.

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