It's been slim pickings in terms of new albums for long stretches this year. That all changes with this very 1990s kind of jazz album - the Moodswing generation that Brian Blade was at the heart of when the Internet was about to glitter and gleam for good and bad just over the rainbow and in a revival cycle since Round Again three years ago. And for once I can hear the Fellowship Band in its own right after admiring but never completely buying into their previous albums at all. Maybe I'm older and wiser enough to know better - whatever. Maybe this is just in a class of its own.
And then again perhaps and this is my best hunch the turning point was getting part of their sound that bit more when digging Jon Cowherd's marvellous album that Blade plays a vital role on too released last year Pride and Joy. I probably will go back to the Fellowship's earlier albums with new ears now having cracked the code at last perhaps and begin again and right my listening wrongs.
The great drummer Blade, who is hugely influential through his work with the late Wayne Shorter - I've heard him with Shorter's Great Quartet (completed by John Patitucci also on Pride and Joy and the great Danilo Pérez) a few times.
And for a live sensation given it was in a tiny club even better hearing him with Marc Johnson and Wolfgang Muthspiel later so compelling with Blade on Driftwood at the Vortex when it was still on Stoke Newington's Church Street circa Real Book Stories witnessed in the company of a much missed pal down from Glasgow that distant night was one of the best gigs I have ever witnessed in more than 35 years of regularly going to review jazz gigs.
Beginning with the hyper melodic quasi-Americana certainly found in the introductory feel of 'Until We Meet Again,' contentedness is not cheesy on Cowherd's 'Catalyst' where there is a very tender melody taken for a spin by saxophonists Gregory Tardy and Melvin Butler. Recorded in a midtown Manhattan New York City studio Cowherd's comping is ideal. And he and Blade have written separately most of the fine tunes. Bassist Christopher Thomas is pretty much perfect at the centre of the sound. And this is an album where there are a lot of tonal centres hit bull's eye time and time again. Guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel melts into the sound so fittingly and is dazzling on 'Look to the Hills,' a time to wig out for a few brief minutes - go on, why not. The Blade title track has a profundity that the album so often runs with and knows how to process. And therein the longer notes and chunky harmonic building blocks full of sensible cadences and rugged modalities leading to an aching saxophone solo is perfect. One of the albums of the year - took about a moment's reflection to not just believe but somehow be adamant about. When you switch it off you bask in the thought of what you have just heard like the feeling I once got hearing Marc Johnson's The Sound of Summer Running. For textbook micro groove and power when he releases go to Blade on 'Migration' one, along with the title track, of the two epics of the album. Even the atheistical among the dear readership ought not mind the closer, a very intact knowing version of the hymn 'God Be With You' sung so movingly by Ella Fitzgerald in the 60s and by Little Brother Montgomery in the 1970s. Linger long. SG. Out today. The Fellowship Band, top, and Brian Blade, photo: Stoner Hill
ALBUM OF THE WEEK FOR W/C 10 JULY 2023