Alex Blake | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Alex Blake 

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Over the last three decades, bassist Alex Blake has worked with musicians of all stripes--Sun Ra, Dizzy Gillespie, the Manhattan Transfer, Billy Cobham, even Jimmy Buffet. In the 90s he developed his most important musical partnership, becoming a key player in Randy Weston's groups. In the early 70s Weston lived in Tangiers, where he explored his affinity for African music; the hypnotic rhythms of Morocco have been key elements in his work ever since. For his part, Blake developed an ingenious surrogate for the grooves usually played on the Moroccan sintir, strumming the thick strings of his instrument with remarkable acuity to get that deep, twangy sound. But while he drops in a few similarly arresting chordal effects on his own long overdue domestic debut as a leader, Now Is the Time (Live at the Knitting Factory) (Bubble Core), in general he opts for a more conventional approach to the jazz bass. I'm not so keen on his "Little Help Solo," the album's lone electric bass feature, which blends Hendrix's "Third Stone From the Sun" and the Beatles' "With a Little Help From My Friends," but from the lightning-fast "On the Spot," which cops a melody from Coltrane's "Giant Steps," to the earthy Weston-flavored blues of "The Chief," it's otherwise a solid set of nicely nuanced hard bop. The loose live recording features pianist John Hicks, tenor saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, drummer Victor Jones, and percussionist Neil Clarke (another Weston coconspirator); for this gig Blake will be joined by Jones, alto saxophonist Chris Hunter, and pianist Theodore Cruise. Headlining the show is Doug Scharin's project Him, performing with an extended nine-member lineup that includes saxophonist Aram Shelton, cornetist Josh Berman, and percussionist David Pavkovic. Thursday, July 26, 8:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600.

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