Seamus Blake Quartet – Live in Italy (Import) – Jazz Eyes CD 305, Disc 1: 53:05, Disc 2: 54:28 ****:
(Seamus Blake – tenor sax; David Kikoski – piano; Danton Boller – bass; Rodney Green – drums)
Seamus Blake is one busy fellow. Besides playing a lead soloist role with the Mingus Memorial Big Band, he tours heavily on his own and has recorded for the Criss Cross label. He now has a contract with the Italian jazz label, Jazz Eyes, and recorded the tracks for this recently released two-CD set, Live in Italy, while touring with his quartet in Feb. of 2007.
Blake’s group gets room to stretch out here as almost all the compositions extend past ten minutes, and only one, Luderinha, is a bit shorter. Improvisation is the key here. Relatively unsung pianist David Kikoski was part of this touring quartet and the resulting CDs are much richer with his inclusion. Kikoski does not get the press of other young pianists, i.e. David Hazeltine, Mike LeDonne, or Bill Charlap; yet he consistently shines on his solos and he impeccably comps behind Blake.
The Jupiter Line opens Disc 1 and electronic effects go along with intense solos. Rodney Green plays a very active part in driving the quartet, with Kikoski laying in single note piano lines that balance out the neo bop feel. Way Out of Willy is a funky excursion with a shuffle beat. More electronic effects are used effectively here as well.
The String Quartet in G Minor (Second Movement) from Debussy totally changes the mood and is quite lovely, showing off Blake’s sensitive chops. Seventeen minutes of bliss mixed in with some intense piano work by David Kikoski, and Blake’s musings both gentle and intense. Donton Boller makes the most from his solo time. Debussy gets a jazz workout. The Senigallia, Italy audience showed their appreciation with a spirited response. Fear of Roaming closes out the first CD relatively straight ahead and shows Seamus’ mastery of the tenor.
CD 2 opens with The Feeling of Jazz from Duke Ellington. It is done respectfully as is Darn That Dream. They both show a relaxed ease from Blake in mastering the standard ballad and blues forms, but giving enough of a twist to keep the Italian audience interested. Kikoski again eats up the chord changes with aplomb, and Green shows his backing skills with just enough edge to remind you he’s fully in command of the drum kit. Spacing provides Kikoski room to explore his composition, which ranges from free playing to a hard bop with edge. The quartet ends their visit to Italy with a spirited rendition of John Scofield’s Dance Me Home, and Kikoski provides the propulsion that the band members feed off of.
Live in Italy is an excellent introduction to Seamus Blake for those who have not heard his Criss Cross issues or seen him live with the Mingus band. The inclusion of David Kikoski is an added reason to pick up this release. The mixing and mastering of Katsuhiro Naito is also first rate as these live concert performances are studio quality.
Disc 1: The Jupiter Line, Way Out of Wily, Debussy’s String Quartet in G Minor (Second Movement), Fear of Roaming
Disc 2: The Feeling of Jazz, Spacing, Ladeirinha, Darn that Dream, Dance Me Home