In the post-Michael Brecker era, Seamus Blake has become of one the very best tenor saxophonists in contemporary jazz. He displays a compact style in playing notes and phrases, with just enough bite and bold inventiveness to take the music into his own personal realm. These are very good reasons why he is the lead soloist in the Mingus Big Band, and can front his own group with distinction and no modicum of originality. Blake played dates in Italy during February of 2007, and these recordings comprise music from that tour via concerts in Palermo, Senigallia, and Cesenatico. Extended pieces with plenty of room for improvisation pleased patrons at the concerts, and should easily do the same for fans who purchase this recording. The fantastic pianist David Kikoski is on board, and gives his usual stellar performance. Why he is not consistently in the top five of modern jazz keyboardists is a mystery -- he's simply brilliant. Drummer Rodney Green is also an unsung hero deserving wider recognition, while bassist Danton Boller is solid as he needs to be in the presence of these fine musicians. The band does a very long-winded interpretation of Claude Debussy's lullaby "String Quartet in G Minor; Second Movement" with Blake's strained tenor acting as a violin, and a waltz take of Djavan's "Ladeirinha" in ballad style that stretches the imagination, both tracks a bit out of their collective comfort zones. Blake's original compositions are the selections here deserving noteworthy status, as "The Jupiter Line" and "Way out Willie" are individualistic yet cut in the cloth of the New York City neo-bop style that the Brecker Brothers designed in the '80s. The former piece is a prototype modal funky swinger loaded with unison lines from Kikoski and Blake, and breakaway tangents where their own voices shine through, the keyboardist going to electronics as well alongside his chiming chordal movements that drive the song. "Willie," the title track from Blake's 2007 Criss Cross CD, is a modified New Orleans shuffle, as he adopts a low timbre singing sound quite reminiscent of John Handy. "Fear of Roaming" is a third original, a spirited 4/4 modal jam with the lower end bass note punctuations between Blake and Kikoski in complete agreement, a good example of modern straight-ahead jazz for the new millennium. Kikoski's great composition "Spacing" is most impressive, as he improvises a brilliant solo intro, then moves to a hard bop, jagged edged melody that implies the title with pedal points that moves quickly into a jam. The band respectfully does Duke Ellington's "The Feeling of Jazz" fast and straight laced, then cools down into an easier swing much like Michael Brecker did it, plays "Darn That Dream" in straight and true ballad form, and closes with John Scofield's witty, hopping neo-bopper "Dance Me Home," with great spontaneity and verve. Nearly a flawlessly played program loaded with intelligently selected music, its individual tracks are too long to acquire much radio air time, and difficult in one sitting to absorb. Those who take the time to listen will find many gifts and treasures within the folds of these two CDs, firmly keeping Blake at the forefront of the modern jazz movement.
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AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2