Wil Blades

Field Notes

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Wil Blades' second album as a leader is titled Field Notes for a reason: the basic compositional ideas were recorded on the road with his phone during soundchecks and other informal moments. Blades has played with drummer Billy Martin (on the fine duet album Shimmy), with Will Bernard, Stanton Moore, Charlie Hunter, Scott Amendola, Idris Muhammad, and many others. He has become an "official" carrier of the Hammond B-3 torch by no less than Dr. Lonnie Smith (his mentor and occasional duo partner). Blades' trio here consists of drummer Simon Lott and guitarist Jeff Parker. While Field Notes lies neatly in the B-3 trio tradition, it's not just a meat-and-potatoes record -- though there's certainly plenty of that to go around. After a brief, funny, spoken word introduction by his young daughter, "Will's Intro" is an easy walking soul-blues, with some imaginative extrapolations in the turnarounds and beautifully voiced basslines from the organist and fat, from Parker. "(I Can't Stand) The Whole Lott of You" is where the record really begins to establish its own thing. With a three-chord vamp from the guitar, and tight breaks from Lott, Blades launches with typical technical prowess into a rhythmic attack slipping in notes and restatements that build on the chromatic base in all three registers. His solo, which follows an imaginative one from Parker, elevates the groove's frame but keeps the listener inside its circular world. "Chrome" is a dreamy, languid, but funky ballad, with lovely reverb and swelling chords as Lott syncopates inside and outside the beat. Even with an implied blues swagger this is a fairly mellow but intricate jam. The rhythmic invention between Lott and Blades creates its own sense of time that Parker's instrument lends a lyric voice to. "Addis," inspired no doubt by Mulatu Astatke's Ethio-jazz, features a trancelike guitar vamp that Blades begins to wind out with brief statements, expanded harmonic riffs, and a back-and-forth conversation with the guitarist. "Parks N' Wreck," named for the guitarist, is a vehicle for both his bandmates, dripping psychedelic soul like water from the choruses. The Caribbean groove in "Red Lanterns Are Blue" walks the line easily between jazz-funk and soul-jazz, with its limpid turns and rubbery clavinet lines adding the bottom end of the B-3. Things come full circle on closer "I Get the Blues When It Rains," a cover from the New Orleans school of R&B, with a Latin beat, bluesy swirl, and nearly hummable melody. Blades, Parker, and Lott could jam endlessly on most of these tunes if they were looking to make a pure party record -- and it would have been hip. That they didn't is part of what makes Field Notes so special; it's keenly focused yet brimming with ideas. It extends the B-3 trio tradition by using the rudiments of greasy tuneology in tandem with a wider jazzman's palette of colors and textures that creates new lyric possibilities for hip, funky grooves.

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