• Live At The Village Vanguard: Brian Blade Fellowship Band

    December 9, 2013. Posted by Matt Leskovic.

    Brian Blade says he’s “just the drummer” in the Fellowship Band. But this modest man of rhythm has plenty of reasons to boast: we heard why on Dec. 10 when the group he has nurtured for twenty-five years came to New York’s Village Vanguard. Listen now to our live broadcast of this event.

    fellowship vv edits_14
    Photo by John Rogers for WBGO/NPR

    Blade was raised in Shreveport, Louisiana, and attended Loyola University in New Orleans, where he formed a trio with Jon Cowherd on piano and Chris Thomas on bass. When he made his way to New York, Jon and Chris came, too.

    In the Big Apple, Blade made waves in a wunderkind quartet with Joshua Redman on tenor saxophone, Brad Mehldau on piano and bassist Christian McBride. He found time to play on Bob Dylan’s folk masterpiece Time Out of Mind, and in the Oscar-winning film Sling Blade. He can also be heard on sessions with Joni Mitchell, Norah Jones, and Emmylou Harris, and has played with master saxophonist Wayne Shorter since 2000.

    But it is in The Fellowship Band, with Cowherd and Thomas at its core, where we hear Blade's generous spirit at its best. On the bandstand, the group sounds like a family; no one player dominates the mix. Saxophonists Myron Walden and Melvin Butler have been with the Fellowship since its birth, and they have found a kindred spirit in guitarist Steve Cardenas, who joins them at the Vanguard and on the group’s fourth album, Landmarks, which will be released by Blue Note in April.

    Grand in scope and breadth of emotion, the Fellowship’s sound seamlessly combines elements of modal jazz, country and folk, soul and rock. Compositions such as “Return of the Prodigal Son,” a suite from 2008’s Season of Changes, invite listeners to navigate a landscape that is pastoral, then haunting and brooding, and ultimately transcendent and inspiring.

    Yet for all this sonic ambition, the Fellowship never loses its earthiness and soul. Songs like “Rubylou’s Lullaby” and “Stoner Hill” showcase the group’s strong melodic sense and ability to be as succinct as they are adventurous.

    Walden and Butler’s interwoven saxophone lines are a delight, as are the pristine piano and guitar unisons, but it’s the subtleties in Blade’s drumming that steal the show. Sensitive and dynamic, Blade’s embellishments compliment but never overshadow his bandmates, and his flair for the dramatic - toms rumbling into volcanic cymbal explosions - are always tasteful.

    Blade may never want to call himself the leader of the band, but he has certainly earned his place on the Vanguard’s marquee, as a master of rhythm and a shepherd of men. Enjoy!

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