Review and photographs by J Hunter
It was one of those days where I couldn’t help channeling Marvin the Paranoid Android from Douglas Adams’ timeless classic “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”: “Life… Don’t talk to me about life!” My general outlook was in the basement, and my opinion of the human race was heading straight for the Earth’s core. I needed more than a pep talk; I needed a spiritual airlift. Enter Brian Blade & the Fellowship Band… thank Whoever!
I first encountered Brian Blade at a Joshua Redman concert I emceed the night before my birthday in 1994, and he’s confounded me ever since. His drumming style is unlike anything on the scene today, and the inability to stuff Blade in the standard round hole is one of two reasons why I love him to pieces. The other reason is the dynamic 2008 release Season of Changes, which was Blade’s first recording with the Fellowship Band in eight years. Season packs a remarkable combination of power and redemption, and it doesn’t hurt that it features amazing performances by Jazz2K stalwarts like guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel and reed wizard Myron Walden. Rosenwinkel didn’t make last Friday’s gig at Zankel, but the night didn’t suffer in the least.
The Fellowship Band doesn’t try to knock you out of the box in the traditional way – i.e. play hard-charging tunes that blind you with their ability to play fast and loud – and that pattern held with the opening tune “Stoner Hill.” There are passages of absolute majesty in Blade’s composition, to be sure, but the overall feeling has the reverence and humility you find in all Fellowship Band pieces. “Stoner” was a tone-setter for what was to follow, with pianist Jon Cowherd’s played simple chords while Walden and multi-instrumentalist Melvin Butler laid down a blissful harmonic that said, “Come on in. It’ll do you good!”