Music Review: Brian Blade

Appeared in the September 2008 edition of DownBeat, an internationally circulated jazz magazine.

For most drummer-led ensembles, the idea of an album with nary a drum solo smacks of sacrilege. For Brian Blade & the Fellowship Band, though, individual vainglory has always been trumped by a strong sense of collective purpose. Season Of Changes skillfully continues the trend and marks the group’s first outing in eight years. Among the changes this season: The septet has been trimmed to six with the departure of pedal steel player Dave Easley, who added salt-of-the-earth ambiance on the group’s first two discs.

In keeping with the Fellowship Band’s contemplative esthetic, the new release is steeped in spiritual yearning. Blade interlaces his compositions with dramatic flair and soft sobriety, asserting himself on the skins when needed but never overwhelming the group’s tender balance of voices. The album’s compositional jewels come from pianist Jon Cowherd. On the epic title track and “Return Of The Prodigal Son,” Cowherd’s weighty melodic statements channel both elegiac and joyous spirits, all over a harmonic framework that invites probing, occasionally soaring solos from guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, alto saxophonist Myron Walden and tenor saxophonist Melvin Butler.

“Rubylou’s Lullaby” eases the listener into the album nicely with stark piano and guitar, but needs more edge once tenor and bass clarinet join in with the melody—the reeds sound a little too sweet for their own good. Although a few moments on Season of Changes verge on melodrama, the album as a whole is a genuinely moving piece of work. Rarely does such unabashedly serious, artful music come in such a listenable package.

Music Review: Stanton Moore Trio

Appeared in the July 2008 edition of DownBeat, an internationally circulated jazz magazine.

Stanton Moores ability to exude raw power without resorting to bombast has made him one of the most sought-after drummers in the South, and he often hangs with New Orleans heavies such as George Porter Jr. and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Its no surprise, then, that his past recordings as a leader were peppered with special guests of all ilk.

Not so on Emphasis (On Parenthesis), on which Moore downsizes to a classic organ trio. Hes joined here by guitarist Will Bernard and keyboardist Robert Walter, who also provided company on his funky 2006 date, III (Telarc). Emphasis extols the virtues of simplicity in all its swaggering glory, with a program of belt-busting soul-jazz from a group that is beginning to find its collective voice.

As per usual, Moore pounds his primal urges heavy and thick. On the joyful opener, (Late Night At The) Maple Leaf, he builds on Walters gritty organ intro with a loose but in-the-pocket beat, proceeding over the course of the tune to profess his love for the press roll. Most of the album maintains that playful exuberance, although the group reigns in the energy on the mysterious (Sifting Through The) African Diaspora and the downtempo, Galactic-esque (I Have) Super Strength. The latter is the biggest departure from most of the albums freewheeling feel, adding jingle bell samples and a looped recording of Walters four-year-old son proclaiming his might (hence the tunes name).

Moores thunderous drums can wear on the ears after a while (he tends to dominate the mix), but he thankfully rotates equipment to keep things fresh. His switch to bone-dry drums is particularly welcome on Over (Compensatin), a 70s-inspired grease groove on which Walter and Bernard wail for the groups most satisfying jam.