Today’s Sounds: Michael Blake

The new record by former Lounge Lizard and ace composer & saxophonist Michael Blake, plus a track by Melbourne’s Alpine and the bizarre new video by the Knife.


Michael Blake, In the Grand Scheme of Things (Songlines)

Composer and saxophonist Michael Blake hails from our fair city, but is now based in Vancouver following time in NYC.  His decade-long tenure with John Lurie’s Lounge Lizards included a Grammy nomination for the soundtrack to Get Shorty, and among countless others, he has appeared alongside Oliver Lake, Ben Allison and Chubby Checker.

In the Grand Scheme of Things is Blake’s 14th disc as leader, including three with Slow Poke, his quartet with David Tronzo, Tony Scherr and Kenny Wollesen. This album features his other quartet, dubbed the Variety Hour, which includes fellow Vancouverites JP Carter on trumpet and electronics, keyboardist Chris Gestrin on Fender Rhodes and Micromoog synthesizer, and the drums of Dylan van der Schyff. The latter two form the rhythm section, with Gestrin’s circular strolls on the keyboards’ lower octaves close in spirit to walking basslines, but with a fresh feel.  As much a colourist as a time-keeper, van der Schyff’s light touch leaves much space for the music to breathe.

Blake’s diverse experience brings a maturity evidenced by an understated, contemplative and unhurried-substance-over-flash approach. With all band members comfortable in both straight and free jazz, the 11 songs (10 penned by Blake plus a cover of Otis Redding’s “Treat Her Right”) are all about balance. Ted Macero, famed studio maestro of Miles Davis’s electric period classics Bitches Brew and Get Up With It, produced Blake’s debut Kingdom of Champa and also leaves a large footprint here.

Miles’s influence dominates tunes like the opening “Road to Lusaka” with Carter’s trumpet intro and a recurring keyboard riff. “Freedom from Exile” also evokes the Prince of Darkness, its sparse atmosphere slowly unfolding with bleeps, doodles and echoed hanging chords from the keyboards, electronically treated trumpet washes, and drum fills that rise and fall.

But the record has much more than nods to Davis. “Cybermonk” proves Blake has ample be-bop chops, his lengthy solo angular yet tuneful. The eponymous track “The Variety Hour” is a minimalist ballad backed by the occasional electronic storm squall. “Treat Her Right” is taken at a leisurely pace, revealing more of the melody than the funkier original.

Alternately and sometimes simultaneously swinging, cool and noisy, this disc blends several jazz traditions into a winning combination.


Alpine, “Gasoline”

Australian indie-electro act Alpine release their debut album A Is for Alpine on May 21. Here’s an advance taste.



The Knife, “Full of Fire”

What do biker erotica, housecleaning, street-peeing and the Occupy movement have in common? They’re all featured in the epic new video by Swedish electronic duo the Knife. Welcome back.

Leave a Reply