Superconductor, Seamus Blake’s eighth album as a leader, finds the saxophonist-composer serving diverse dictates from his considerable muse. The album intermingles three orchestral tunes, featuring rich eight-piece arrangements by Guillermo Klein and conductor Vickie Yang, with six tracks driven by electronic keyboards and the sonic possibilities of the EWI (electronic wind instrument).
“Sofa Song,” the album’s first orchestral number, is as plush as its namesake furnishing, Blake’s tenor saxophone buoyed gorgeously aloft by woodwinds and fluttering strings. “Gracia” boasts sensitive soprano from Blake, rhythmically concise drumming from Nate Smith, and dynamically restrained solos from guitarist John Scofield and pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba. Yang’s compositional contribution, “Last Continent,” edges into dark, almost forbidding melodic waters; Blake’s soprano horn is calibrated for every detour in this emotional journey, resulting in his most purely affecting playing of the recording.
The electronic tunes offer listeners a far different sort of trip. “Ohm” finds Blake weaving joyous EWI phrases over electric bassist Matt Garrison’s tough-minded funk lines, giving way to shimmery ’80s splashes from keyboardist Scott Kinsey. On “Forecast,” Scofield’s fluid single-note runs thrust and parry with Blake’s tenor and EWI, while “Send in the Clones” is energetically outré: Kinsey peppers dizzying figures with eerie sampled effects, Garrison skitters like a spider and Smith throws in titanic bomb blasts from his bass drum. A few tracks feature Blake’s processed vocals, most notably album-closer “I Do,” a powerful showcase for an emphatically conversational Scofield solo, and the dreamily drifting “Kepler-186f,” where echoey distortion strikingly transforms the saxophonist’s voice into a second EWI.
One can imagine some listeners skipping the electronic tracks to get to the orchestrated material, and vice versa. Fortunately, no matter where you tune your ears, Blake’s Superconductor delivers something electric.