||Right before your very ears|
Michael Blake Trio
When New York saxophonist/composer Michael Blake asked me to come up with some liner notes for “Right Before Your Very Ears”, my first thought was, “Yes! There goes Blake with yet another project… and I can’t wait to hear it.”
Ever since I first heard his playing nearly 10 years ago, I’ve always wanted to follow wherever he leads. There’s overt passion and blatant charisma in Blake’s creative drive, making the lure to follow along to see what adventure he’ll take you on next purely irresistible. The reward is in the open invitation that bubbles on his surface, to not merely listen, but join him in this pursuit of the magical, to allow yourself to become part of the music by letting it envelop you so you can truly feel a part of the experience. It’s the high that addicts (both of the creating and the listening sort) of creative music spend a lifetime seeking out. It’s rare, and all parties have to be willing in order to reach this particular nirvana.
Having played together starting with Medicine Wheel in the mid-‘90s, then as a trio under Ben Allison’s leadership for a house gig at NYC’s Kush, as well as some European touring, Blake knew what he, Allison and Jeff Ballard were capable of. Despite their time being occupied with other projects in recent years, Blake was determined to reunite this group and lead it in a new direction.
In the true tradition of jazz, the MB Trio decided to stretch themselves beyond anything they’d done together in completing this live-off-the-floor disc in one session at Brooklyn Recording last November 30, 2004. In order to achieve Blake’s primary goal on RBYVE of having it “feel like people were hearing the band right there, like we were right there in their living room”, he matched the recording process to the musical direction. While engineer Andy Taub tracked the instruments independently, he mixed it down to two tracks, taking all the signals into a stereo mix, capturing the dynamics of the raw immediacy of the three instruments together in one room.
The result is a recording so alive in the moment, its very presence reverberates urgency, commanding your undivided attention. When you put ‘Right Before Your Very Ears’ on the stereo, you’d best have a block of time carved out in front of you, because this is no background music – it’s an attention-grabber from the heart-stopping first blast of the opener, an improv aptly titled “Run For Cover”.
“I had these sketches of ideas and said, ‘Let’s try this’ and then we did it,” says Blake about improvised tracks 1, 4 and 8. “I had a very simple idea that I knew I wanted to develop and I said, ‘I’m going to tell a story and it has a beginning, a middle and an end – probably - but I didn’t want everything to arc in a clichéd way. I didn’t feel like everything had to start, and build in intensity and be a huge climax. In that sense, obviously some solos naturally go that way, but in terms of free playing, it’s up and down and up and down, and you have to really focus on the direction. Every phrase that I might play is taking it a certain direction, but then it’s reacted to and then the three of us go, ‘Now the conversation moves to another thing’.’ It’s so organic.”
All tracks are first takes, with the exception of “Fly With The Wind”, keeping to the philosophy of natural development fresh in the moment for this recording. “Hopefully it’s something people can enjoy and listen to - certainly people who really love jazz and listen to jazz records to really listen, that’s what this record’s about,” says Blake. “I didn’t feel like making a record that was necessarily functional. In a way, it is what it is: music for music’s sake. For me, it was a very therapeutic thing to do, an extremely important artistic statement in terms of my saxophone playing, in terms of really throwing down a very strong documentation of my playing at a time when it seemed really strong.”