Alfonzo Blackwell

The Time Is Now

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On Alfonzo Blackwell's fourth album The Time Is No, the multifaceted saxman does more than just celebrate a diversity that ranges from in the pocket smooth jazz to a swinging bebop ode to chief influence John Coltrane. In the middle of the 16 tracks, just as he's made us believe he's the quintessential cross between Boney James and Dave Koz, he literally leads a battle cry towards a "New Jazz Order" that reaches into the avante-garde. For the first time on the album, Blackwell improvises heavily over hypnotic anthemic chanting of the title and a lilting, retro soul vibe drenched with high-hat splashes and electronically created Fender Rhodes and vibes. Then, putting his money where his mouth is, he goes off on some interesting tangents, from the punchy sax meets hardcore DJ scratch percussion of "Get With This," to a melancholy jazz quartet waltz, "Catwalk." Most impressively, Blackwell -- who plays all the instruments throughout the album -- takes the supreme risk of joining his longtime live ensemble for a hardcore free form interpretation of "My Favorite Things" patterned after 'Trane's legendary version. His intense sax vibrato swings heavily over hard percussive harmonies by pianist Adam Klipple and the overactive high-hat of Mike Flight. It's almost as if Blackwell's plan is to first seduce us with kindly, though well played, pleasantries, then show us what he's made of. Tidy little ballads like "The Seduction," "Make It Smooth," and the midtempo vocal tune "That Feeling" (featuring Jean Norris of Zhane) key in on his lighter side, while the aggressive, throbbing world beat funk of "Naeemah" (with African flavored chanting over a honking alto melody) opens the door to the new order. Like Tom Scott and David Sanborn, Blackwell shows that great sax doesn't have to come in neat little compartments.

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