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Brian Blade

Last week the Brian Blade Fellowship Band played SF Jazz. Brian first formed the Fellowship with Loyola classmate John Cowherd in 1997, and between stints with Joshua Redman, Joni Mitchell, Kenny Garrett, Daniel Lanois, Bob Dylan, and Wayne Shorter, he has managed to keep the group together and have four Blue Note recordings to date. With Melvin Butler on soprano and tenor, Myron Walden on alto and bass clarinet (one of my favorite instruments!) and Chris Thomas on bass, the group is one of the most soulful, and creative, in jazz. Many of the tunes are written by Cowherd, whose style is an evocative blend of Evans, Corea, and Hancock. They horns often play in fourths and fifths, which give ambiguous major/minor possibilities for soloing (which I also love). They also have a very Celtic character (Coltrane reportedly practiced through Irish harp books). One is reminded that our Great American Music is a blend of African, Celtic, and European musics and folk tunes. Blade, as always, is explosive, exciting, abstract, but always groovy. Bravo!
I've been so busy with my own music, and with my neuro disease company ALSP that I haven't mentioned a couple of great shows I saw recently at SF Jazz. September 12, The Chick Corea Trio, with Christian McBride and Brian Blade played the Miner Auditorium. Christian is, along with Charnette Moffat, and John Patitucci, one of the premier acoustic bass players of his generation. And Brian Blade is perhaps the most creative and abstract drummer around, with credits ranging from Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, to Joni Mitchell, Steve Earle, and Bob Dylan. Chick first played with Christian and Brian in the Five Peace Band with John McLaughlin in 2009. Five years later he toured with them as a trio, and their 2015 live 3 disc recording earned two GRAMMYS for Best Improvised Jazz Solo, and Best Jazz Instrumental Album. From standards to originals, they make the familiar seem fresh, and the unfamiliar a warm home.

What an amazing couple of weeks for music in the Bay Area.  Last night the Wayne Shorter Quartet opened a four night residency at SF Jazz.  I often write about the inter-connectedness of music and musicians, and lineage.  I am so fortunate to know and play with musicians who have played with Charlie Parker (Eddie Duran), Miles Davis and Santana (Benny Rietveld) and John McLaughlin and Wayne Shorter (Kai Eckhardt).  Wayne Shorter has been at the forefront of improvised music for over 50 years.  From Art Blakey, to Miles Davis (the "Second Great Quintet") to founding Weather Report, to studio work with Joni Mitchell and Steely Dan, to a solo career that started in the fifties and has now returned him to the Blue Note label - each one of these credits would be a life's work for any musician.  His current quartet, with Brian Blade, John Petitucci and Danilo Perez, has been together for 14 years, and fittingly for the composer of E.S.P., they have a telepathic level of communication.  As with his time with Miles (Herbie called it "controlled freedom") and Weather Report, a motif might signal a move to a different part of the composition, leaving perhaps 90% or so of the music improvised.  Patitucci and Blade have monster grooves - not only poly-rhythmic but multi-cultural.  Bossa funk bebop. Straight ahead salsa.  Shorter has always had an oblique, zen understatement to his playing and writing, and Perez and Patitucci and Blade have mastered his language, and propel him to great heights.  Randall Klein is correct that this is the finest working group in jazz, and Wayne is it's supreme living master.  To be fresh and challenging at the edge of the music, at age 80, is a unique and beautiful accomplishment.        

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