I am always a bit wary when a drummer leads a jazz quartet or quintet. It's going to be loud and bombastic. I am not sure why I have that sense. Art Blakey, Max Roach, and Roy Haynes are all drummers who led bands. All three were masters of the beats. Maybe it is having seen the ever bombastic Buddy Rich on Johnny Carson. In any event, tonight I brought earplugs just in case. No need.
Brian Blade and the Fellowship Band were anything but loud or bombastic. The group performed for 95 minutes at the University of Chicago's Logan Center for the Arts, bringing the Jazz at the Logan series to a conclusion for the 2017-18 season. And what an end it was. The band received two enthusiastic standing ovations for their efforts. Nothing perfunctory about the applause that brought the players back for an all-too short encore.
With Blade were Myron Walden on alto saxophone and bass clarinet, Melvin Butler on tenor and soprano saxophones, Chris Thomas on bass, and Jon Cowherd on piano. This collection of players is not just a fellowship. It is a tight unit that plays thoughtful and reserved abstractions. There is a reason why one of Walden's instruments of choice is the bass clarinet. At times he wailed using his alto saxophone, as did Butler on the soprano, but Walden's bass clarinet provided a thematic serenity to the set, which could easily be characterized as one long-extended jam despite several breaks. It wasn't until the end that Blade announced the song titles. No jazz standards here. If I am not mistaken, all the music was composed by band members.
Despite the cerebral, albeit at times swinging, nature of the band's output, Blade is a Cheshire Cat. He has very distinct movements, but whether he is using sticks, brushes, mallets, or odd broom-like devices, Blade had a big grin on his face throughout the concert. He just beams a joyful attitude.
I was particularly pleased by the father who brought his 10- or 11-year old son and the son's drum instructor to the concert. I was standing in the aisle just off the first row when the three approached Myron Walden. When Walden asked the young drummer whether he liked the concert, the kid indicated that he was just blown away. The future looks bright.
I would highly recommend checking the Fellowship out. Need a better description of the sound? Try ECM meets Blue Note.
Melvin Butler on Saxophone
Melvin and Myron
A Joyful Beat
Myron Walden with Bass Clarinet
Blade and Brush
Melvin Butler on Soprano Saxophone
Myron Walden on Bass Clarinet
Jon Cowherd on Piano
Photographer's Notes. The stage lighting tonight was set particularly low. Thus, high ISO was necessary. Many of the photographs were shot with the ISO set to either 6,400 or 12,800.
I did get lucky. Several seats in the 10 or so rows in front of the stage were empty, which meant I could get some nice shots without the tops of bald heads in the lower portion of the picture frame.
As for the toning: I will be teaching a course this summer on black and white photography at Northwestern University's OLLI program. I figured I should give toning a try because I will be discussing it. Send me an e-mail with any thoughts.