A truly wonderful release, young tenor saxophonist Blake's first live album captures all the sizzling energy this quartet generates on this well-recorded double CD. Backed by the exuberant Rodney Green on drums and Danton Boller on chewy double bass, former Thelonious Monk Saxophone Competition winner, Blake displays an impressive range of melodic ideas and skill to burn. Rounding out the foursome, and taking things into the stratosphere with his contributions, is veteran pianist David Kikoski, who is one of the finest jazz pianists on the scene today, yet unfairly isn't as well known as he should be. Hopefully this recording will serve to bring deserved attention to Blake, Kikoski, Green and Boller because this is one ripping good album from start to finish.
Blake composed three of the four compositions on the first disc, and he clearly shows his maturity as a composer. The heart-pounding "The Jupiter Line" starts things off brilliantly in a nearly 12-minute burner with assured changes and superb group playing from all. Boller and Green keep the rhythms charging and pushing the primary soloists. Kikoski is stunning, as always. This pianist seems to have reached the age where his physical skills and mental are operating at utter peak performance -- the ideas and execution astonish. Blake's solos are also models of intelligence, creativity and years or hard work and study: this recording proves that he should begin to be mentioned in the same sentence with fellow NYC players like Chris Potter, David Sanchez and Donny McCaslin. In an original touch, he also at times uses electronic effects to add beautiful tones in the background. You may think it is synthesizer or guitar, but those washes of sound are tasteful electrified sax.
The jaunty, good-time "Way Out Willy" (the shortest song on the first disc at 10:52) will bring a smile to your face with its addictive swinging groove, and Blake's wah-wah saxophone. You might cringe at the idea, but he uses the effect with such sophistication that it is a true delight. Meanwhile, in another stunning display, Kikoski comes up with more ideas on this song then most players do in an entire gig.
It is impossible to pick and choose highlights because there are so many on this recording, but certainly the groups take on the Second Movement of Claude Debussy's "String Quartet in G minor" is one. Epic in length at 17:07, this arrangement showcases the groups ability to play it gentle and peaceful as well, although as befitting the players, it can't help but swing. And Blake's shredding solo may have old Claude turning over in his grave. One more Blaze original, the haunting "Fear of Roaming" ends the first disc on a high note with more first-rate playing from all.
Disc Two contains covers of Duke Ellington's "The Feeling of Jazz," Brazilian composer Djavan's moody "Ladeirinha," the Van Heusen/DeLange chestnut "Darn That Dream," John Scofield's "Dance Me Home" (Blake has been associated with Scofield for several years) and an exceptional, somewhat avant garde original from Kikoski, "Spacing." Needless to say, the high quality continues, with the angular and modernistic "Spacing" and the lushly romantic take on "Dream" especially catching my ear. A CD that's darn tough to take out of the player as it bears repeated listening, Live in Italy is a knock out.