Thursday, April 12, 2012

Jonathan Blake: The Eleventh Hour

Jonathan Blake (drums)
The Eleventh Hour (Sunnyside; 2012)
Ben Street (bass)
Kevin Hays (piano, fender rhodes)
Jaleel Shaw (sax)
Mark Turner (sax)

Tom Harrell (trumpet)
Gregoire Maret (harmonica)
Robert Glasper (piano, fender rhodes)
Tim Warfield (sax)

While the most popular jazz musician around at the moment might be Robert Glasper, I wanted to discuss another musician who is utilizing the urban landscape as part of his journey in transforming the view of jazz.

I first came across Jonathan Blake on a couple albums by Japanese American soul singer, Monday Michiru (who you really need to check out as well). He has also worked with a number of jazz artists including Tom Harrell, Russell Malone, Kenny Barron and Oliver Lake. From all of these and more sessions, his playing has expanded with a gentle, soulful tone that can turn fierce at the blink of an eye.

It's amazing that its taken over 15 years to emerge with this debut, The Eleventh Hour. But it is an impressive debut that was worth the wait. Blake's diversity has shown an array of musicians that sit in on this session (including the aforementioned Glasper). The title track opens the album with a soulful, almost acid jazz vibe. Glasper's fender rhodes adds that funky psychedelia to this fine throwback piece. Blake's beats are infectious and well matched by deep reaching tones from the always focused Hays, Shaw and the incomparable, Mark Turner. 

"Rio's Dream" is more understated and romantic. A midtempo ballad where Blake's performance is subtle, he allows Hays to perform a rhythmic stance in guiding the group. Shaw and Turner are in solid conversation and provide a dynamic that is of the highest order.

"Of Things To Come" is a fast paced hard bop number in which Blake's rapid fire precision is essential. His writing also allows rest of the group an opportunity to fly; like street sounds, almost beatnik in some of the plucking. Shaw and Turner sound so in tune with each other that you wonder why they don't record together more often.

"Canvas" is an optimal closing number that brings the outing back into soulful focus. A soft bluesy ballad that has some free flowing element to it is also highlighted by Gregoire Maret and Robert Glasper's emotional yet abstracting constructions. A solid closing argument.

With The Eleventh Hour, Jonathan Blake has created a document that is moving, melodic, diverse and soulful. It's an album that should garner the same praise Glasper's effort in re-imagining the popular scene of American jazz. Highly Recommended.

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