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(66 min, Mack Avenue)
TRACK LIST: 1. Invocation 8: 35 2. Chasing the Sun 5:21 3. Your Warm Embrace 1:51 4. Dance of Passion 5:33 5. The Windmills of Your Mind 6:06 6. Shades of Brown 4:32 7. Sonic Tonic 7:14 8. Tom Blake 5:38 9. Pure Imagination 4:44 10. Pissarro's Floor 8:25 Bonus track: 11. Invocation Revisited 8:05 LINEUP: Ron Blake - tenor saxophone Michael Cain - piano, keyboards Christian McBride - bass Chris Dave - drums With: David Gilmore - guitar Josh Roseman - trombone &: Some more additional musicians
Prolusion. Here is "Sonic Tonic", the second solo album by American saxophonist and composer Ron BLAKE, marking my first acquaintance with the artist's creation. His debut solos CD, "Lest We Forget", was released in 2003, though there is one more album in Ron's general principal discography: "Up Front & Personal" (2000), coming under the moniker of Ron Blake Quartet.
Analysis. In the CD press kit "Sonic Tonic" is described as an innovative fusion of Funk, Caribbean and Latin rhythms with a traditional jazz sound. While the originality of the stuff is beyond question, my vision of Ron's music is pretty different from, say, the official version in many cases. I believe only one of the ten instrumentals here, the title track, can be defined as Funk blended with a traditional jazz sound (Swing!) and ethnic rhythms. This is a set of light improvisations, unpretentiously swirling around the distinctively swinging, yet, inviolably stable axis, with no tempo changes intended from the outset. Just due to its restoratively rhythmic nature, which doesn't imply any significant digressions from the primordially set theme, Sonic Tonic became my least favorite track on the album. Its follow-up, Tom Blake, is also rather pronounced rhythmically, but all the soloing parts, the drumming included, are diverse enough (plus powerful) to compel the listener to revisit the composition and, just later on, to understand that it's by far not as complex as it seems upon the first spin. The other eight tracks are an essential progressive listen, and by the way, they run 53 minutes, most representing a unique, genuinely serious, both highly diverse and compelling Jazz-Fusion. The first piece, Invocation, is striking for its depth and complexity on the one hand and for its compositional and harmonic cohesion on the other. What is at the core of this composition is Ron Brown's deliberate will to go beyond Jazz-Fusion by the incorporation of elements of Jazz Classical music, which, of course, has a certain common ground with Academic Classical music, as well as quasi improvisations. This is not just a multi-sectional composition, but is a genuine suite, the form that is by far not as typical for Jazz-Fusion as for Art-Rock, for instance. The music goes through a number of changes in direction, arousing distant associations with some works of the genre's Godfather, Miles Davis. As on most of the tracks, the lead soloing parts are equally shared between Ron Blake's tenor saxophone, Michael Cain's keyboards (mainly piano), Christian McBride's bass and Chris Dave's drums. Trombonist Josh Roseman and guitarist David Gilmore are most noticeable among the session musicians, having contributed their performance to a few compositions. Chasing the Sun is another highly intricate work with the alternation of intense and quieter sections and is also a masterwork. When David Gilmore's electric guitar comes to the fore, I recall "Atavachron" by Allan Holdsworth, although I understand that this is a very rough point of comparison. The atmospherically eclectic piece Your Warm Embrace is too short to put it on the same plane as the neighboring tracks, but nevertheless, this is a good, full-fledged composition, a kind of bridge between the first two and the next three tracks, which reveal a somewhat different approach to the arrangement. Dance of Passion, The Windmills of Your Mind and Shades of Brown follow one another intermixing melodic, reflective and highly eclectic maneuvers. Each is basically slow, at least in most cases, but the music is ever-changing, the beautiful, highly memorable central theme of the former reminding me a bit of Duke Ellington's Caravan. Pissarro's Floor, which closes the album as such, is similar in construction, but unlike the said three pieces, it is affirmative in mood, and not dramatic. The preceding composition, Pure Imagination, is a duet of tenor saxophone and acoustic piano, also following the traditions of romanticism. Finally, Invocation Revisited literally repeats its maternal track on the compositional level, though structurally, it is much more transparent than it, Ron for the first time playing both saxophone and flute. Although I am fully confident to mark out Invocation, Dance of Passion, Chasing the Sun, The Windmills of Your Mind and Shades of Brown as the most profound compositions on the album (the former two being my absolute favorites), most of the others well suit my concept of a serious progressive music, also.
Conclusion. With the exception of its title track, "Sonic Tonic" is an effort, which, above all, is destined to the tried connoisseurs of Jazz-Fusion and is a highly enjoyable album overall. Ron Blake appears to be a very gifted composer and musician, who, moreover, is wise enough to never obscure his partners in the performance department. As a result, this solo album sounds essentially like a full-fledged full-band effort, throughout. If you aren't an expert in Jazz-Fusion so far, begin your listening with Dance of Passion, as it's a pure magic. You will just fall in love with this piece, and it will help you to comprehend the next two compositions and, therefore, the entire album. Highly recommended.
VM: January 16, 2006
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