Oliver Lake keeps busy. When the veteran saxophonist isn't on the bandstand, he's writing poetry, painting, or making brightly coloured, sculptural talking sticks. As he says in his poem "Separation", he'd rather not divide art into different categories. Instead, he wants all his food "on the same plate".
Life, it seems, is just one big banquet for the 63-year-old musician, and no doubt he's been enjoying all the fine dining-both gastronomic and cultural-that Paris has to offer when the Straight reaches him by phone at his hotel room in the French capital. He's there, he explains, with the World Saxophone Quartet, which is currently touring a tribute to the greatest innovator the electric guitar has ever known. A program of Jimi Hendrix's music might seem like a strange thing for a saxophone quartet to take on, but not according to Lake. "We just made the tunes World Sax tunes," he says. "It was a fun thing to do, because he has so much compositional material there. That's one thing you don't realize about Jimi Hendrix: of course the guitar playing is there, but the compositions are very rich, too, so we had a lot to pull from."
Further riches await Lake in his next project. Once the WSQ's European tour is over, he'll jump on a plane to Vancouver, where he's guesting with the NOW Orchestra at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre on Saturday (November 26).
The project was initiated by NOW bandleader Coat Cooke, himself a saxophonist and long-time admirer of Lake's work, and it should be a nice addition to the local ensemble's long list of collaborative undertakings.
"Coat sent me about five or six of the NOW CDs, with [American trombonist] George Lewis and some other players, and I loved what I heard on the recordings," says Lake. "So when he asked me to come there and do this concert, I said 'Of course!'
"There's only a few bands like this in the world," he adds, "so if I get the opportunity to work with one of them-and especially with players of the quality that I heard on those recordings-then I'm right there."
He's already prepared two new scores, and he's reworking a couple of older pieces as well, noting that he's going to tweak the arrangements a little bit to accommodate NOW's unusual lineup, which incorporates a pair of double bassists, plus vocals and electric guitar.
Whatever the big band ends up playing, however, it's sure to work in wildly inventive passages of music-making plus a strong sense of melodic direction. No matter how outside Lake's music gets, it always returns to song.
"I've always been attracted to melody, whether I'm writing for string quartet or big band or orchestra," he says. "And you'll hear a lot of that in the works that I'm going to do when I come through next week."
With that, there's an audible knock on his hotel-room door. It's time for Lake to go play Hendrix for the Parisians, leaving us to anticipate the big-band glories to come.