Brian Blade Fellowship
Season of Changes
Watching Brian Blade on stage with the Wayne Shorter Quartet, it’s impossible not to be moved by the ferocious intensity of this Louisiana-bred drummer – he’s in your face but entirely focused on musical interaction, given to tricky polyrhythms and dramatic bomb dropping but never less than fully supportive of the saxophonist’s vision and the group’s sophisticated interplay. As support guy on recordings by the likes of Daniel Lanois, Emmylou Harris, Joni Mitchell, Bill Frisell, and Bob Dylan, Blade has provided atmospherics and color as well as serving as chief rhythm maker.
Emphasizing the former role without underplaying the latter, he shines again as both instrumentalist and composer on Season of Changes, only the third recording in a decade from his Brian Blade Fellowship. The lineup from 2000′s Perceptual – pianist and second composer Jon Cowherd, guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, saxophonists Myron Walden and Melvin Butler, and bassist Chris Thomas – returns for something of a sequel to that disc. Nominally a jazz recording, the new CD might fall into the same category as mid-period Pat Metheny: Folk and pop melodies, fusion, noisy guitar rock, bop-inflected improvisations, and near-symphonic chord progressions are variously worked into a patchwork of instrumental Americana.
Indicative of the textural range of the music, Blade’s “Most Precious One/Most Precious One (Prodigy)” suite opens with a quiet bass-and-piano sequence, expands with a full-band restatement of rhythms and themes, and morphs into a piece topped by fuzzy and acid-washed guitar. It’s edged with electronic squeaks and squiggles, finally opening up into six-string declarations big and imposing enough to fill an arena. Yes, that tune does snag part of the melody of “Jesus Loves the Little Children” – hence the title. Cowherd’s multi-part “Return of the Prodigal Son,” too, is marked by broad strokes, including Rosenwinkel’s probing guitar explorations and Melvin Butler’s rangy tenor saxophone romp.
The Cowherd/Walden piece “Improvisation,” on the other hand, has a lonely bass clarinet melody unaccompanied and then under-girded by mournful pump organ. The Blade-penned title track similarly shuttles from a mellow, crawling piano figure to screaming, six-string stabs back to a saxophone-led theme and improvisations. It’s a microcosm of Season of Changes, a journey marked by keen musical intelligence and the composers’ apparent desire to bring listeners along on an idiosyncratic musical adventure. Resistance is futile.
- Philip Booth