No Cover: Michael Blake

Email a Friend

New York jazz-scene stalwart Michael Blake recently performed at Barbes. Stream the entire set right here.

Hometown: Vancouver, Canada

The Facts: Some hear the term "free jazz" and instinctively cringe, imagining hours of unintelligible, pretentious noodling. Fear not – Michael Blake is a different kind of improviser. He belongs to a segment of the avant-garde scene that is strictly anti-snobbery, omnivorously drawing from currents in rock, pop, classical and world music. Blake's longtime collaborators include John Lurie, whose iconoclastic Lounge Lizards pioneered an almost punk rock, anything-goes approach to jazz in the late 70s, and third-stream bassist extraordinaire Ben Allison.

In his solo career, Blake seems to share those same inclusive instincts. His work ranges from the Vietnam-inspired Kingdom of Champa (1997), to the entirely improvised Right Before Your Very Ears (2005). In Blake's most recent project, Hellbent, he teams up with trumpeter Steven Bernstein and tubist Marcus Rojas. And while Blake may not be a household name, he's no lightweight either – All About Jazz dubbed his 2007 release Amor de Cosmos Album of the Year.

The Sound: Here, Blake plays with a quartet of saxophone, bass, drums, and electric piano. Their sprawling improvisations are sweet, swinging, and downright funky at times. Blake's tenor saxophone wails, growls, and stutters yet remains melodic throughout. Meanwhile, the band stretches out without ever losing their sense of conversational cool.

Latest Release: Hellbent (2010), released independently.

He Said, She Said: "It’s basically impossible not to enjoy Michael Blake’s Trio. The tenor and soprano saxophonist gives his incisive lines a chatty demeanor, making the music seem casual, inviting. It’s smoke and mirrors though. The craft behind the whole thing is deep." – Jim Macnie, The Village Voice.

"He bolsters his tuneful theme and variation-based excursions with avant-garde flourishes, amplifying mellifluous refrains with vociferous outbursts. Alternating between serene balladry, thorny angularity and multiphonic experimentation, he delves into each aspect with palpable enthusiasm." – Troy Collins, All About Jazz

A Note From the Artist:  "This particular set of music we played in the opening 30mins - a 5 part suite - relies on a structured and traditional score with specific parts for each musician to work with. But I don't tell them what to play. I do suggest how they play so that the mood of each piece is intact and the transitions from one song to the next are unified within the group. However when we performed this an entirely different thing happened then in rehearsal and I like that."

The Setlist:
1. "Situation Tragedy"
2. "No Tonic Press"