Body and Shadow
I was first hipped to Brian Blade some 20+ years ago – he was playing with Joni Mitchell so, sure, I might well have liked just about any drummer doing that then, but it didn’t take long to absorb Blade’s amazing approach and unique feel, to spot that this was a guy that oozed music. His name actually appeared in more records in my collection and then I’d seek them out – if he was playing on it I wanted to hear it.
For most of the last while he’s had a small handful of regular gigs, including as part of Wayne Shorter’s fierce quartet. But all the while he’s kept his Fellowship Band happening, making soulful, gospel-infused jazz. He even stepped out in front to play guitar and offer lead vocals – and almost any other instrument apart from drums – on what is essentially a singer/songwriter album. But it’s no mere folly. Brian Blade loves to play. And is so good. He is there in every moment within the pieces he plays on.
So the latest Fellowship Band album is a mesmeric triumph, from the slow-brooding blues-swept tunes (Traveling Mercies) through band and solo gospel pieces (Have Thine Own Lord, in two distinct parts) we arrive at Duality – the sort of windswept/interesting jazz that Blade puts his name to, whether his surname is dancing down the spine or just shuffled over onto a corner of the back-cover. In some sense it announces, within the context of this album, and explains away – the very “duality” of this musician. At over 8 minutes long, on a record that just reaches out to over half an hour, this is most obviously the centrepiece, but it’s also quite likely the sore thumb here, the throwback. It’s great though, the band really hums. But more beguiling, and rewarding, are the gentle creepers, like the split three parts of the title track and the opening saxophone, guitar and piano melt, Within Everything.
Sure, the Fellowship Band has swung harder, rocked out more (well “rocked out”, as it were) and dug in tighter, but the loping, lovely grooves here, and the wandering lushness, it’s a subtle mystery, a gentle marvel.
And there’s just enough of a pulse to proceedings (Broke Leg Days) to keep you from nodding off, to keep you focussed. This is jazz for jazzers and jazz for people that aren’t even sure they like jazz; that, in the end, might be the Fellowship Band’s greatest trick, so pure and unalloyed, so lithe and ready to morph, very nearly all things for almost all people.
Body And Shadow is my new favourite Brian Blade record. It will quite possibly be surpassed by whatever he does next. But it’s the sort of record you’ll want to hear – and have – whether a hardcore fan, or if this is your intro, maybe the only one you ever get to. It’s that sort of record that occupies its own quiet nook – a special place. You imagine this album sunning itself, curling up with a book, taking the rest of the day off.
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