Michael Blake gets personal on In the Grand Scheme of Things

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Michael Blake
In the Grand Scheme of Things (Songlines)

Michael Blake does more with less than just about any other saxophonist around, with the possible exception of his former Lounge Lizards employer John Lurie. And since Lurie’s been AWOL for many years—suffering from Lyme disease, we hear—maybe it’s time to crown Blake king of the sketchy melody.

He certainly does a remarkable job on the 11 sketches recorded here.

Cut during one of the Vancouver-raised Blake’s infrequent visits to his old hometown, In the Grand Scheme of Things finds him in the company of keyboardist Chris Gestrin, trumpeter JP Carter, and drummer Dylan van der Schyff, all of whom seem to share his taste for the bittersweet. And although they’re not above a good romp—opener “Road to Lusaka” sounds like cosmic Afrobeat, while the aptly titled “Cybermonk” is pretty much straight bebop, save for Gestrin’s unhinged Moog—they sound even more sympatico on the quieter tunes.

“The Searchers”, for instance, fades in and out of time: sometimes it’s a sustained exploration of space; at others it’s almost anthemic, albeit with a subtle air of menace. “Big Smile” verges on the comically simple, like a ’60s soul tune reduced to its sweetest essence. And the brooding “A View of Oblivion” could be a dark meditation on extinction, were it not for the sudden shafts of keyboard sunlight that beam in toward the end.

Subtle references to ’60s Miles Davis and ’70s fusion appear from time to time, but the mood is otherwise contemporary—and very personal. No one but Blake makes music quite like this.

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