(Ron Blake – tenor saxophone; Michael Cain – piano, producer, arranger; Regina Carter – violin (6); Jack DeJohnette – drums (2, 4, 8, 12, 13); Gilmar Gomes – percussion (1, 3, 10); Christian McBride – bass (5, 11)
On Shayari, tenor saxophonist Ron Blake turns poetic and lyrical. The hardworking musician has performed in fusion/crossover with Christian McBride, pop/funk with Me’Shell Ndegéocello, and whatever gets the job done as a full-time member of the Saturday Night Live band. Its appropriate Blake works on late-night television, since the acoustic Shayari often has a post-midnight introspection, when wine bottles are almost empty and the day’s events have slowed down.
Producer/pianist Michael Cain is an integral part of these proceedings. He adds affirmative piano to the thirteen tracks, wrote or co-wrote nearly half the songs, and has created some stimulating, closely recorded production and arranging textures throughout. Cain provides an attention to sonic detail and aural organization that generates some ear-catching moments and is a positive dividend. His piano often leaps into the front location, and slides into and out of percussive, melodic and harmonic situations. At unexpected intervals, Cain does similar knob-twirling magic with other instruments. Percussionist Gilmar Gomes is afforded a foreground position during opener “Waltz for Gwen” and Cain’s “Come Sun,” which starts on a calm, atmospheric tone with a trim melody, but eventually displays a strident demeanor. Gomes’ punctuated percussive confidence is also framed strongly on balmy, moist “The Island.”
While many tracks have an unperturbed characteristic, “Hanuman” finds Blake engaging in some pointed interaction with Cain, with Blake’s tenor becoming positively staccato over Cain’s reverberating piano and Jack DeJohnette’s challenging rhythmic variations. Cain and DeJohnette have recorded together several times in the past, but having Cain, DeJohnette and Blake play as a trio on Cain’s melodic, slightly funky “76” is a noteworthy pleasure. The three combine color, variety, and expressive moods that push each musician (collectively and individually) to perform masterly and with an explorative sensibility.
Another polished trio setting is found on the Gerry Mulligan-esque “Of Kindred Souls,” which incorporates Regina Carter’s sophisticated and lush violin timbre. This isn’t a true collaboration, however, as Cain, Blake, and Carter render separate solos, and the three fuse forces only during the intro and outro. Carter is in fine form, but is used sparingly, which is unfortunate, since her violin and Blake’s sax meld mellifluously.
An additional welcome guest is bassist Christian McBride, who is recruited on two cuts, the darkly silhouetted “What Is Your Prayer For?,” which has the ageless quality of a standard-in-the-making, and a fairly new Bobby Hutcherson composition, the up-tempo bopper “Teddy,” named after Hutcherson’s son.
Shayari is a recommended album that reveals shades and enunciated points on repeated listening, and demonstrates Ron Blake speaks the language of jazz with authority and accomplished articulation and is developing a distinct, singular voice.
1 Waltz for Gwen
3 Come Sun
5 What Is Your Prayer For?
6 Of Kindred Souls
7 Please Be Kind
9 Remember the Rain
10 The Island
12 Abhaari (Pt. I)
13 Abhaari (Pt. II).
— Doug Simpson