Monday, February 6, 2012

Dan Blake: The Aquarian Suite

Dan Blake (sax)
The Aquarian Suite (BJU Records; 2011)
Jason Palmer (trumpet)
Jorge Roeder (bass)
Richie Barshay (drums)

Dan Blake is a significantly rising talent on the scene today. He has garnered a number of strong awards and played with a good array of musicians (including Julian Lage and Ricardo Gallo) along the way. While only releasing two albums in six years, he is still one of the most in-demand and definitely "one to watch out for" of the most recent list of saxophonists of the last ten years. He has a quality that is both attuned to tradition but also looking to the future.

While listening to Dan Blake's latest record, The Aquarian Suite (BJU Records) you will automatically harken back to a bebop era when music was fresh and vibrant with life. But you will also witness an artist creating a vital spin on tradition. I sense shades of Sonny Rollins or Jackie McLean but with new ideas that are bursting at the seams. "The Whistler" bleeds with variant colours that are both exciting and enchanting. A calm and clever tune that moves up and down providing excellent moments of expression by Blake and a number conversations between each member of the quartet.

"The Best Of Intentions" is a sophisticated ballad that drips with passion and deep respect. It's a soul searching piece and can bring a tear to the eye. "Aquarian" contains a bluesy jump tone and almost spy-like bass tingling performance from Roeder. Moving quietly it begins like an experimental piece and then turns into a crackingly upbeat, as it heads toward the middle. There is a vivid and fun atmosphere that is laid out between Blake, Palmer and Barsahy that becomes inviting and infectious. "Cavemen Do It Too" is euphoric and reflective; with punchy overtones from Roeder and Blake. This is followed by a great solo period from Roeder which is killer. Definitely the hippest highlight of the session but also the perfect way to close it out.

Dan Blake has dedicated individual pieces to those that have been an influence (Monk, Mingus, Braxton, Davis) but really what he has done is created one of the few albums that bridges the gap between the benchmark and launchpad for what many composers/saxophonists should be considering. Blake is a rising talent with all the right ideas and The Aquarian Suite is another piece in a growing arsenal of brilliance.

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