Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Dan Blake's Intriguing The Aquarian Suite

Saxophonist and composer Dan Blake has a new release on BJU (Brooklyn Jazz Underground) Records, The Aquarian Suite, where he leads a piano-less quartet with Jason Palmer on trumpet, Jorge Roeder on bass and Richie Barshay on drums. Blake has quite a background having performed with such artists as Esperanza Spalding, Anthony Braxton, Kenny Werner, Danilo Perez, and Ricardo Gallo.

Listening to Blake’s compositions and the performances here, one musical point of reference is the classic Ornette Coleman Quartet and bands such as Old Dreams and New Dreams. While perhaps having a bit less overt blues-flavor, Blake and his quartet play marvelously. The horns display quite a bite along with their very expressive soloing, at times floating over the foundation provided by Roeder and Barshay. But this duo enliven the tempo for the horns who engage in an intriguing dialogue on Mister Who, fluidly negotiating mood and tempo changes. The mood changes on the lament, “The Best of Intentions, with the two horns interweaving their lines. “How’s It Done” starts with the rhythm section, especially Roeder setting the mood, before Blake takes a torrid tenor sax solo followed by Palmer who starts in a relaxed vein but builds heat as his solo. Barshay also takes a crisp drum break here.

The press release accompanying for The Aquarian Suite notes that many of the performances here reference masters of the bebop era so that Mister Who takes cues from Monk’s Skippy, while How’s It Done was an effort to evoke the classic Clifford Brown and Max Roach Quintet. The composition Aquarian is dedicated to Anthony Braxton whom Blake refers to as an icon of creative music. While it might have been helpful if Blake’s comments on his music had been included, the performances more than stand without explanation.

The mix of Blake’s stimulating writing with the high level of the performances, both in terms of the intelligent and spirited solo, and high level of the ensemble playing result in this excellent release. It is available from Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records (, Dan Blake (, and other retailers.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is a video of Dan Blake in performance.

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