[ALBUM REVIEW] Brian Blade & The Fellowship Band: Landmarks
The Brian Blade Fellowship not only boasts one of the best band-names in jazz, but also one of the greatest, if not THE greatest jazz drummer of the last 20 years: band-leader and composer, Brian Blade himself. A master of impeccable touch, 43 year-old Brian Blade and his band sit at the very cutting edge of the world of cerebral, mind-and-genre-bending jazz, and his new album, Landmarks, makes no exception to his standing as a future legend.
The sprawling new release takes its sweet time to develop, as the music often sits sloshing around in rich, swirling textures of earthy woodwinds, ambient pondering guitars, and even an entire track devoted to the layering of Jon Cowheard’s mellotron and pump organ floating in a sluggish dialogue with the bass clarinet and sax for two minutes in a tempo-less haze. The record takes a few minutes for Mr. Blade’s drumming to fully awaken, as the band keeps delaying my craving for some sort of repetition or solidified groove to latch on to. But towards the end of the second track, the rhythm section collectively rises out of the mud as the piano and drumming ascend to a fluid yet brief climax. After the subdued introduction, I was surprised to find that the Fellowship band thought the listener would need yet another a minute to catch a breath, this time in an interlude of sedated guitar ambience. Eventually, in the track “Ark.La.Tex.” we are granted a much-needed backbeat as the momentum VERY gradually rises into a gut-wrenching flood of emotion from Myron Walden’s alto sax solo. As the energy rises, Brian Blade’s fluidic drumming conjures the image of a journey down a rising river being tossed about in a swirling, crash of white-water rapids. In other words, the drumming is viciously sexy.
The album continues in this manner of ascending to climatic and even transcendent bursts of energy between extended periods of mellow, thoughtful and breathy sonic atmospheres in a sound that the Fellowship band has come to own like none other. Landmarks is truly a twisting and turning journey from beginning to end, full of surprises (especially the short detour into swampy blues-rock during “Farewell Bluebird”), and most importantly held together by the masterful drumming and compositional eloquence of Brian Blade. From its many quiet moments to its most fiery, Blade pairs his sensual melodic expressivity with stormy explosive power to carry the album through worlds of dynamic contrast with utmost grace.
Landmarks certainly represents a masterpiece of contemporary jazz, although my only problem with it is that the record exhibits no real departure from the Fellowship band’s signature sound that they developed over their last 3 albums. Maybe I'm just being a bit impatient, but it’s been 16 years since their first release and their sound has changed less in that timespan than the progression that Miles Davis or Herbie Hancock undertook in a quarter of that time. However, the fact that I should even compare Brian Blade in the same sentence and to the same standard set by past legends like Miles or Herbie says something, does it not?! Regardless, these guys are some of the most creative and soulful musicians of ANY genre right now, and I am confident they won’t be forgotten in the decades to come.