Brian Blade & the Fellowship Band: Body and Shadow
Besides being one of the most celebrated, in-demand drummers in jazz, Brian Blade has always lived what almost seems, at times, to be another life, serving as sideman for the likes of Norah Jones, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Iron & Wine. He’s also applied much of his creative impulse to helming his Fellowship Band, which has released its
fifth album in some two decades. It’s not as if he has a lot of time on his hands. Now a sextet, with co-founders Jon Cowherd (piano), Chris Thomas (bass), Myron Walden (alto saxophone, bass clarinet) and Melvin Butler (tenor saxophone) joined by new guitarist Dave Devine, what strikes initially about the Fellowship Band here, as before, is how uninterested Blade is in using his namesake outfit as a vehicle for flaunting his considerable jazz-drumming skills. Perhaps he just figures that there are plenty of other places for listeners to marvel at his chops. Instead, this band is all about composition, and it so happens that most of the compositions that he and Cowherd turn out lean toward the easy-going side with a tilt toward pop. While, on a track like the eight-minute-plus “Duality” Blade does turn up the beat (and the heat) in spots, more often than not, the drums are nonexistent or minimal, allowing Walden to step up and blow fiercely and for Cowherd to explore outside of the melody. The elegiac two-part “Have Thine Own Way, Lord” and other highlight tracks, including the opening “Within Everything,” closer “Broken Leg Days” and the three sections of the title track (“Morning,” “Noon” and “Night”), fashion chill atmospherics and sultry moods.