Seamus Blake, one of our more adventurous young tenor saxophonists, assembles a strong quartet for this relatively mainstream Criss Cross date. Pianist David Kikoski and bassist Ed Howard worked together for many years in Roy Haynes' group. Drummer Victor Lewis mentored Blake when the young tenorist moved to New York. So, among the four players, there's a great deal of experience shared in common. Blake leads the foursome through three solid original tunes (including "Circle K," a cut from 2000's Sun Sol), a quietly inspired reading of Stephen Sondheim's "Children and Art," covers of Stevie Wonder's "Rain Your Love Down" and Brian Wilson's "God Only Knows," and a slow, foreboding take of "Why Not" by the underexposed West Coast pianist George Cables. Although Blake travels outside the jazz norm with his sparing use of echo and wah-wah effects, the album lacks the kind of sustained audacity of, say, 1999's Stranger Things Have Happened. But even here, Blake is posing some important questions about the present and future of jazz. In particular, Blake, like many of his peers, is pondering the meaning and relevance of the modern pop repertoire for jazz musicians. The Beach Boys' classic "God Only Knows," for instance, with its unforgettable melody, complex harmonic movement, and odd phrase lengths, is a nice choice in theory. In practice, however, the song loses something when it becomes fodder for jazz soloing, detached from the lyrics that made it truly great.
by David R. Adler