Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Michael Blake - Fulfillment (2016)

Source & Label: Songlines

“Blake gets incredible range from his band here…beautiful stuff for our ears…[not] any less great than Joshua Redman or Banford Marsalis or even Sonny Rollins.”

– Will Layman, PopMatters, reviewing In the Grand Scheme of Things
Over the last 9 years, New York saxophonist Michael Blake has been periodically returning to Vancouver, which he left in 1986, to create and record new works with his pick of Vancouver improvisers. Amor de Cosmos (2007), a sextet somewhat inspired by his BC roots, featured Chris Gestrin, Dylan van der Schyff and André Lachance. In the Grand Scheme of Things (2012) was by his Variety Hour quartet (Gestrin, van der Schyff and JP Carter). This new release, his most ambitious in terms of writing and arranging, adds cello and guitar plus guest instrumentalists and, on two pieces, Michael’s own lyrics. It is also his most conceptual work since his debut as leader, Kingdom of Champa (1997), his jazz portrait of Vietnam. This time the connection is, more indirectly, with India. Originally titled The Komagata Maru Blues, this suite of music was inspired by a tragic immigration incident in Vancouver in 1914, when a Japanese freighter carrying several hundred East Indian immigrants (almost all Sikh) was turned away using exclusionist, racists laws. Michael has a family connection to this history through his great grand uncle H.H. Stevens, a Conservative Member of Parliament who declared at a public meeting, “I intend to stand up absolutely on all occasions on this one great principle – of a white country and a white British Columbia.”
Blake never knew Stevens, and grew up in a progressive environment. But the connection catalyzed a creative process, one which was also affected by the Syrian war: “I didn’t want the center of the work to be about the failure of it all, rather I wanted to tell the story from several different perspectives and show how far we’ve come. But then the current refugee crisis came into play and that definitely sank into my conscience while I was writing the music….The biggest departure for me was writing lyrics. Most people have never heard of the KM and probably never will. So I think the lyrics broaden the scope of the music into what listeners can imagine for themselves. For me ‘The Ballad of Gurdit Singh’ captures that moment in Vancouver harbor when the passengers are not welcomed with open arms.”  Read more...

1 Sea Shanty
2 Perimeters
3 The Ballad of Gurdit Singh
4 Arrivals
5 Departures
6 Battle at Baj Baj
7 Exaltation
8 The Soldier and the Saint

Michael Blake, tenor & soprano saxophone, compositions
J.P. Carter, trumpet, electronics
Peggy Lee, cello
Chris Gestrin, piano, MicroMoog
Ron Samworth, electric guitar, banjo
André Lachance, bass
Dylan van der Schyff, drums, percussion
Special guests:
Aram Bajakian, acoustic & electric guitar (1, 6, 7)
Emma Postl, voice (1, 3)
Neelamjit Dhillon, tabla (7)