Drummer Brian Blade funnels his disparate interests into the Fellowship Band | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

Drummer Brian Blade funnels his disparate interests into the Fellowship Band 

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Brian Blade

Brian Blade

Courtesy the Artist

Brian Blade is among the most meticulously reactive drummers at work today in any genre. He tailors his composerly touch to fit any band he’s involved with. For instance, in the Wayne Shorter Quartet he plays with mercurial explosiveness, while in cornetist Ron Miles’s Circuit Rider he adds melodic grace. In 2009 Blade made Mama Rosa (Verve), a singer-songwriter endeavor, accompanying his own voice with a guitar. That work explores a combination of ethereal melody and humid atmosphere similar to some of the music of Joni Mitchell, Emmylou Harris, and Daniel Lanois—all of whom he’s played behind. All of Blade’s interests collide in the Fellowship, his long-running jazz band that zeroes in on a kind of spiritual Americana. Last year’s Body and Shadow (Blue Note) features the band at its most concise—the nine tracks clock in at under 32 minutes—with little improvisation apart from that featured on a few tunes by keyboardist Jon Cowherd. The band forges a powerful hybrid of melody and mood, creating a tuneful lattice of sound that often lingers in the air rather than pushing forward. The contemplative opener, “Within Everything,” and the three variants of the title track—revamped for different times of the day, “Noon,” “Morning,” and “Night”—arrive as peaceful meditations where guitarist Dave Devine and Cowherd (who plays harmonium and Mellotron in addition to piano) sculpt sound within arrangements that are sometimes so stripped-down the other band members remain silent. The Fellowship’s two saxophonists, Melvin Butler and Myron Walden, are frequently relegated to shaping carefully pitched melodic patterns in counterpoint to Cowherd, though they do get to open up on the keyboardist’s gorgeously rippling “Duality.” Though Blade designed Body and Shadow with a pop sensibility informed by the vocabulary of jazz, when the group performs live, it generates more heat and stretches out with extended improvisation that breaks the spell of the recording and taps into an ecstatic quality lurking beneath its placid veneer. Blade leads a quintet version of the band with Cowherd, Butler, Walden, and bassist Chris Thomas.   v

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