Blake's latest effort is last year's self-released Hellbent, a live quartet performance in his native Vancouver in February 2007. The quartet's drummer, Calvin Weston, captured the set with an inexpensive digital recorder he left running next to the soundboard—a typical practice for jazz musicians looking to assess their own performances—but it doesn't sound lo-fi. Blake first made his name in a late-era version of John Lurie's Lounge Lizards, and while he tends to be an inside-out player—never pushing the envelope too hard or ditching his postbop roots—he's still a searcher, and that's never been more apparent than on this killer session, which also features trumpeter and longtime collaborator Steven Bernstein (Sex Mob, Millennial Territory Orchestra) and tuba player Marcus Rojas (Dave Douglas Brass Ecstasy, Henry Threadgill's Very Very Circus). He plays only tenor saxophone here, but he's also one of the finest post-Steve Lacy soprano players around—he avoids the saccharine tone common to the horn in favor of a wonderfully dry, slightly edgy sound.
Rojas and Bernstein emphasize the rubbery-blubbery qualities of their instruments, with lots of bulbous puffs, sibilant hissing, and flatulent blasts, but when the band is firing on all cylinders (which happens a lot) they lay down fierce, insanely cogent improvised lines atop Weston's furious propulsion (he’s probably best-known for his drumming behind guitarist James Blood Ulmer). The concert was Blake's first Vancouver performance since his father's death a few weeks earlier, and its emotional intensity makes it clear what a powerful experience it was for him. Most of the seven pieces—including takes on Duke Ellington's "Wig Wise" and the Jackson Five hit "I Want You Back"—are uptempo, but to me the most beautiful is the aching ballad "Like Father, Like Son," which Blake composed on the evening of his father's passing and premiered at this show. It practically cries—you can hear for yourself below.
Michael Blake, "Like Father, Like Son":
Nasheet Waits, Equality (Fresh Sound New Talent)
Jan Bang, . . . And Poppies From Kandahar (Samadhisound)
The Budos Band, The Budos Band III (Daptone)
Highlife, Best Bless (The Social Registry)
Tord Gustavsen Ensemble, Restored, Returned (ECM)