Tenor saxophonist Michael Blake is stretching his conceptual legs, and making fascinating music in the process. Born in Montreal, raised in Vancouver and resident in New York City since 1986, Blake created a warped past-meets-present tribute to tenor masters Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins on 2014’s exquisite Tiddy Boom and now he’s mining an historical event for a future-looking amalgam of acoustic and electronic textures. In the process, he’s also created one of the best showcases for the cream of Vancouver’s improvised music community.
The inspiration for Fulfillment is the refusal, in 1914, of Canadian officials to allow a shipload of economic migrants from India to claim refugee status. Blake was stunned to learn that a relative had played a role in refusing the migrants, and moved by current events involving Syrian migrants to compose an eight-movement suite.
Blake’s writing here is characterized by strong rhythmical motifs, which shift from a galloping tempo paired with a stalking bass/guitar combination on “Perimeters” to a floating, Coltranesque feel on “Battle At Baj Baj” and a slow, rolling tabla groove on “Exaltation.” In each, other elements are introduced to insert drama or alter the dominant mood. His most effective use of this sonic bait-andswitch technique comes on the opening “Sea Shanty,” where he contrasts the poppish-sounding guitar, electronics and Emma Postl’s ethereal vocals with a biting tenor solo and woozy-sounding fade that makes it evident that the ship is headed into perilous territory.
Vancouver mainstays Peggy Lee, cello, and Ron Samworth, guitar, both fill important roles, with Lee playing a beautiful, mournful lead on “Arrivals” and the guitarist adding distorted counterpoint to “Exaltation” and “The Soldier And The Saint.”
Ambitious and profound, Blake’s suite stumbles only on “The Ballad Of Gurdit Singh,” where his attempt at expressing the plight of the migrants in words fails to match the power of his music.
– James Hale
Fulfillment: Sea Shanty; Perimeters; The Ballad Of Gurdit Singh; Arrivals; Departures; Battle At Baj Baj; Exaltation; The Soldier And The Saint (54:47)
Personnel: Michael Blake, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone; J.P. Carter, trumpet, electronics; Peggy Lee, cello; Chris Gestrin, piano, MicroMoog; Ron Samworth, electric guitar, banjo; Aram Bajakian, guitar (1, 6, 7); André Lachance, bass; Dylan van der Schyff, drums, percussion; Neelamjit Dhillon, tabla (7); Emma Postl, vocals (1, 3).
(An edited version of this review appears in the July 2016 issue.)
The Ballad of Gurdit Singh
If some strange ship carries away a loved one’s soul
Never seeing them again when
All that remains all that matters is this:
Our ways are our ways not your ways
And you don’t speak or act like me from what I can see
What could come from such travesty?
The mountains looking down on the scene
Mock us with their majesty
The forests whisper stories of those
Who were cheated out of lives they were meant to live
So we’re not alone then
This is where we want to be
When meditation, prayer and patience end in disgrace
It’s so long now…
The gates have closed, the waters churning, yearning our hearts
Back to loved ones that we hold dear
The stars look very different from here
Will they help us find a way in…through the trap door?
Catapults and battling rams can’t break down these walls
Lawyers, politicians, cops and immigration
It’s so long now….
If we capsized the weight of all the hatred above letting elements of love in?
Another life awaits you
A different world’s at hand
It’s real enough
Adjust that latitude now
The pack is closing in
To rope a dope
What no one’s ever seen
Howl, reel, convulse in wonder
Give up, give in, let bygones be
(Another life awaits you)
Black as the night it collides with the sun
Shards from the light of a young soldier’s gun
Lift your self up, brush it off, cast away our mistakes
Now on YouTube: a 48-minute video “slideshow” of eight beautiful abstract paintings by Gerhard Richter, set to the music they inspired Bill Frisell and his trio of strings (Hank Roberts, Jenny Scheinman, Eyvind Kang) to create back in 2002. The slideshow was designed as a CD-ROM Flash program for Songlines’ RICHTER 858 SACD, but technological advances soon made it impossible for most people to access it, as computers switched to Intel processors from the less powerful Power PC processors. So, for the past seven or eight years, few have been able to experience the powerful combination of Frisell’s compositions and Richter’s art.
In November 2012, marking the 10th anniversary of the creation of the Richter 858 music, Vancouver New Music presented the 858 Quartet at the Vancouver Playhouse, and their second set featured the Richter 858 compositions plus (for the only time) projections of the paintings and details that appeared in the slideshow, on a large screen behind the performers. The concert was a huge success, and that started us thinking about how to make the slideshow available again in some form. Redoing it using the current version of Flash was a possibility, but it seemed that would again limit accessibility in the future, plus the amount of space on an enhanced CD did not allow either the visuals or the music to be presented in high quality. So we reconstructed the slideshow as a 720p video, with 44.1K AAC sound, and have made it freely available here.
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