June 17, 2024

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CD review: Johnathan Blake – Passage – 2023: Video, CD cover

New York drummer Johnathan Blake delivers rhythm with a fine balance of tension and ease. Equally at home playing cutting-edge modern jazz or R&B, his credits span two decades and range from the Mingus Big Band and rapper Q-Tip to an upcoming Village Vanguard residency with guitarist Bill Frisell. Yet his own-name releases have been few and far between.

Passage, his fifth solo album, features Pentad, the sparkling quintet he presented on Homeward Bound, his 2021 Blue Note debut. Blake’s sensitivity and creative support continue to shine and his compositional skills impress.

Two years on, the band’s intensity is a fraction higher and the soloists dig even deeper into the music’s core. Alto saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins plays with the fire and focus that made his recent Love Supreme performance such a standout. Cuban pianist David Virelles combines scintillating speed with downbeat left-hand vamps, and Joel Ross unerringly finds the right lines to weave into an already heady mix.

The album opens with the brief, sparse and melodic “Lament for Lo”, a moving tribute to late drummer Lawrence “Lo” Leathers, conjured by unaccompanied mallets. For the most part, compositions twist, turn and deliver fascinating narrative shifts. The title track, composed by the leader’s late father, violinist John Blake, switches from edgy counterpoint to urgent walking bass swing. The intricate “Tiempos”, written by Virelles, toys with time and adds a subtle Latin twist.

Blake’s own compositions dominate. “Muna & Johna’s Playtime”, named after his children, interrupts its playful vibe with the whiny, doubtful sounds of Virelles’ Moog. “Groundhog Day” features bassist Dezron Douglas in a sinuous hip-hop joust. The elegiac mood of the ballad “Out of Sight, Out of Mind” ebbs and flows.

The set closes on the summery and soulful vibe of “West Berkley Street”, a reference to Blake’s Philadelphia childhood, made even more poignant by the voice of Blake’s father, captured in voicemails then sampled.

Drummer, composer, and bandleader Johnathan Blake follows up his acclaimed 2021 Blue Note debut Homeward Bound with Passage, an uplifting sequel that once again features his band Pentad with Immanuel Wilkins on alto saxophone, Joel Ross on vibraphone, David Virelles on piano, and Dezron Douglas on bass. Dedicated to the memory of his father John Blake Jr., a jazz violinist whose stirring composition “Passage” gives the album its title, the 10-track set also features five new originals by Blake, as well as pieces by Douglas, Virelles, and Blake’s drum teacher and mentor Ralph Peterson Jr.

Tracklist:

1. Lament For Lo
2. Passage
3. Muna & Johna’s Playtime
4. Tiempos
5. Groundhog Day
6. Tears I Cannot Hide
7. A Slight Taste (Dez Intro)
8. A Slight Taste
9. Out of Sight, Out of Mind
10. West Berkely St.

Johnathan Blake - Passage – Blue Note Records

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