WBGO Blog
  • 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!

  • Village Vanguard Live: Bernstein, Goldings & Stewart

    November 14, 2013. Posted by Chris Dennison.

    A great organ trio is like your favorite diner. You know the dishes and ingredients by heart, but they taste better every time, so you always want to come back for more.

    Listen now to Larry Goldings on organ, Peter Bernstein on guitar and and drummer Bill Stewart from New York’s Village Vanguard, as broadcast live by WBGO on November 13.

    Photo by John Rogers for NPRMusic/WBGO
    Photo by John Rogers for NPRMusic/WBGO

    Listeners love what these three serve up, with good reason. After twenty-five years together, they show an almost telepathic ability to read each other’s moves and predict where their improvisations will take them.

    While they have been billed over time as the Larry Goldings Trio and the Peter Bernstein Trio, at the Vanguard they are billed as what they truly are: a deeply intuitive and collaborative trio.

    Goldings’ relocation to the West Coast and busy schedules as sidemen make these trio gigs less frequent, but they are worth the wait. When these three play together, they sound like they are coming home: they combine a harmonically developed post-bop approach to melody with down-home blues and a hard-driving swing feel.

    The group’s 2011 CD Live at Smalls offers a good introduction to this sound, in particular their take on “Milestones.” Goldings launches the iconic Miles Davis piece with with an esoteric free introduction, after which the band joins him for a statement of the melody and a solo by Bernstein.

    Goldings then steers the tune back towards the freer side of things, with intervallic passages and skillfully employed reiterations of material from the tune. Stewart’s sense of melody is on full display during his solo on “Milestones,” and he provides thoughtful accompaniment throughout, from his subtle brushwork on “Nobody Else But Me” to the way he drives Bernstein and Goldings on the swinging “Chant.”

  • Live At The Village Vanguard 10/2/13: Ravi Coltrane Quartet

    October 2, 2013. Posted by Chris Dennison.

    Ravi Coltrane brought his new quartet to the Village Vanguard for WBGO's live broadcast from the club on Wednesday, October 2 at 8:30 p.m. Listen to this concert and review comments by hosts and audience members below. Enjoy!

    ravi npr edits_14
    Photo by John Rogers/johnrogersnyc.com

    Coltrane upended ears in 2012 with his Blue Note debut Spirit Fiction. Half the disc features longtime collaborators Luis Perdomo on piano, bassist Drew Gress, and drummer E.J. Strickland. On the balance, he forges a new sound with trumpeter Ralph Alessi, bassist James Genus, pianist Geri Allen, and drummer Eric Harland.

    Spirit Fiction is shot through with duality. The title track superimposes separate recordings, a nod to Ornette Coleman’s double quartets on Free Jazz in 1960. On “Roads Cross,” the quartet starts together, pairs off Coltrane with Strickland and Perdomo with Gress, then reconvenes for a climax.

    Indeed, Ornette echoes throughout Spirit Fiction, even though the altoist’s mournful keen is nothing like Coltrane’s urgent sound. The second group plays Ornette’s “Check Out Time” with dazzling interplay between Coltrane, album producer Joe Lovano and Ralph Alessi. The two tenors push each other and blend beautifully, and when Alessi’s trumpet joins the fray, they sound simply fantastic.

    After Spirit Fiction, Ravi turned a new corner. Immediately after the disc, he set out on tour with the young and tremendously talented band of David Virelles on piano, Dezron Douglas on bass, and Johnathan Blake on drums: this is the group he brings to the Vanguard on Wednesday night.

    While the new quartet has yet to release any studio recordings, their live performances reveal a fresh and exciting group, as in a November 17, 2012 performance of “Coincide” at the Jazzdor Festival in Offenburg, Germany.

    As we can hear, Coltrane develops deceptively simple melodic lines with dynamic bursts of energy. All three younger players follow this cue: Virelles establishes a great sense of space, anchored in the tune’s three-chord riff, which he patiently fills with new harmonic territory. Blake also experiments with highly dense and more spacious sections. Douglas is the group’s rocket glue: he holds everyone together, even as his bass line propels us forward.

    Wednesday’s broadcast promises to be an intense, high-powered show, in a venue known for drawing the best out of its performers. Don’t miss it.