There’s no doubt that Oliver Lake’s alto saxophone could tear up a blues with the help of some greasy B3 pedals and drawbars. His work with the World Saxophone Quartet regularly takes tradition and breathes new life into it, and his recent big band does the same. What I Heard, Lake’s third album with an organ group, briefly touches on the funky side, but it predominantly wants to explore newer territory via the saxophonist’s compositions.
If it follows any precedent, the Organ Quartet could be compared to groups led by Larry Young, whose Blue Note period pushed the B3 beyond blues changes without forsaking the instrument’s rich textural palette. Trumpeter Freddie Hendrix and drummer Chris Beck play in the Lake Big Band and have a strong rapport with the leader. Organist Jared Gold plays in a manner that feels relaxed even while he maneuvers through jerky rhythms and occasionally choppy time signatures; “Palma” offers an example of this, as Gold pins down a rocky tempo with the bass pedals while spinning off a brisk solo. During the free group improvisation of “Cyan,” Gold seems like he’s ready to launch into a groove but thinks better of it. Rather than pure frenzy, that performance makes the quartet sound unified.
Lake knows when to toss in his signature high shrieks or sharp-tongued lines. Hendrix proves to be an equally tuned-in frontline partner, blowing warm lines one moment and running up through the range of his horn at other times, following Lake’s lead. What I Heard will defy your expectations of an organ album, in the best possible way.