Blue Note Records
Brian Blade has played with many of the greats across jazz and pop music – lending his colours to Joni Mitchell one minute, sitting down with Joshua Redman and Brad Mehldau the next – there’s also the solo (singer/songwriter) albums and then his work as leader of the Fellowship – what a band.
For this, the group’s fourth by my count, Blade has created a field-trip of an album, a set of stately, but explorative ballads. One minute the hushed horns of Melvin Butler and Myron Walden are softly cooing, talking down the tunes, playing it low-key, next (Ark.La.Tex) they’re soaring. And if Butler’s soprano runs in any way trace around that majestic work by John Coltrane then Blade is riding up behind with the rolling/tumbling sound of Elvin Jones to support.
But it’s the way this band intuitively moves together, a hint of space and then you hear – rather than just feel – bassist Chris Thomas, the guiding (gliding) hand almost always is pianist Jon Cowherd.
It’s a form of musical poetry.
And when things really take flight – as on Farewell Bluebird – you hear the influence of pop and folk musics as well as the bop and balladry these players are so well schooled in. There’s hints of Scarborough Fair’s melody in Bluebird, there’s the format – the rise and fall – of post-rock in the way He Died Fighting plays out.
There’s such depth in this album.
But particularly I’m held by the second half – after the traditional Shenandoah, here presented as organ lurch with soft-gush horns – it’s to a run of five extraordinary Blade compositions. We get to hear moments where the guitars of Marvin Sewell and Tortoise’s Jeff Parker wind around the climb of the drums (Friends Call Her Dot), where the guitars and saxophones engage in an intense, exquisite slow dance (Bonnie Be Good) and all the while Blade performs that perfect drummer-as-leader role, the wicketkeeper of the band. Never letting a ball go through, engaged in every moment, helping to dictate the flow and decision-making.
Landmarks is a surprising set of songs – deceptive, with so much happening inside the controlled nature, so many lovely sounds to focus within the soft wash and simple, gorgeous waft. The closer, Embers, feels like the end of the journey, the late-night return home after the all-day scenic drive.