John Blake

Kindred Spirits

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Outside of Philadelphia, John Blake isn't nearly as well known as he should be, which is regrettable because the veteran violinist is a very expressive and versatile improviser. Blake, who is best-known among Philadelphians for his association with the late Grover Washington, Jr., is no stranger to soul-jazz and jazz-funk. But he is equally proficient when it comes to bop and post-bop. Blake's straight-ahead side prevails on Kindred Spirits, an album of duets with acoustic pianist Sumi Tonooka. There are no drums or bass on this bop/post-bop CD; Tonooka's piano is Blake's only accompaniment on lyrical versions of Harold Arlen's "Over the Rainbow" and Billy Strayhorn's "Isfahan" as well as cerebral bop standards like Bud Powell's "Parisian Thoroughfare" and Thelonious Monk's "Evidence." Two McCoy Tyner-ish originals are also offered (Tonooka's "Susumu" and Blake's "Maiden Dance"), but the duo's primary focus is well-known standards. Obviously, many of the songs on this 2000 effort have been done to death; some long-time jazz lovers will ask if they really need to hear yet another version of "I Hear a Rhapsody." But while Blake and Tonooka could have been more adventurous and less conventional in their choice of material, one is inclined to be forgiving because (1) Blake plays with so much warmth and feeling, (2) violin/piano duets aren't all that common in jazz, and (3) Blake is one of jazz's unsung heroes (at least outside of the Philadelphia/Delaware Valley area). Kindred Spirits is a pleasing effort from a soulful violinist who doesn't deserve to be neglected.

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