Michael Blake Sextet

Amor De Cosmos
Songlines SGL SA 1567-2

Visiting his Vancouver hometown in 2005, Brooklyn-based saxophonist Michael Blake organized this top-flight sextet to play eight tunes especially written for the session. With compositions honoring the West Coast history of his own family as well as British Columbia’s – Amor De Cosmos was a 19th century newspaperman and politician – Blake has created a disc that’s as spacious and full of promise as the province itself.

A charter member of the Lounge Lizards and Slow Poke, Blake’s home team is also notable. Pianist Chris Gestrin has just released a double CD; Sal Ferreras is a noted Latin/classical percussionist; drummer Dylan Van der Schyff is in a trio with Chicago trumpeter Rob Mazurek; while bassist André Lachance and trumpeter Brad Turner work both sides of the mainstream/avant-garde divide.

Pointedly for a session like this, the most poignant tune is “So Long Seymour” written for Blake’s childhood Newfoundland dog. As tough walking bass lines hold the bottom, the piece is introduced by marimba ratcheting and tremolo trumpet coloration. When the melody accelerates from allegro to agitato, Blake adds pitch-shifting, staccato phrasing and the drummer bounces rim shots. Unison horn lines and clinking piano key complete the portrait.

More atmospheric, the title tune is another portrait which in execution ends up saluting Miles Davis as much as the B.C. premier who founded the Victoria Colonist. Gestrin’s electric piano vamps and Turner’s muted lines recall the 1960s rather than the 1870s, as does the undercurrent of blurry electronics. Still, De Cosmos’ individualistic and eccentric traits may be reflected in van der Schyff’s serrated backbeat and Blake’s tongue fluttering.

More than a postcard from home, Amor De Cosmos is made up of reminiscences everyone can appreciate.

— Ken Waxman

— For CODA Issue 337