Drummer Brian Blade clearly doesn’t put all his musical eggs into one proverbial basket. Aside from being a member of The Wayne Shorter Quartet since 2000, he’s also played with jazz greats Joshua Redman and Kenny Garrett as well as non-jazz greats Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, and Iron & Wine. Besides that, Blade has a parallel career as a singer-songwriter.
For his fifth album as a leader, Blade brings the seemingly disparate strands of his career together. Landmarks is definitely a jazz album, but Blade forgoes the play-a-catchy-theme-and-solo format of so many jazz sets in favor of thoughtful compositions reflecting Blade’s varied influences. “Ark.La.Tex” is a saturnine, mournful near-march that mixes a slightly angular Thelonious Monk-like melody with gospel overtones. Alto saxophonist Myron Walden plays a memorably lithe, bittersweet solo with a bit of Eric Dolphy’s dark energy, while Jon Cowherd’s Mellotron adds cinematic density and texture. The loping, blues-infused “Farewell Bluebird” features some stinging slide guitar from Marvin Sewell. Tortoise’s Jeff Parker plays six-string on two tunes — the elegant, Duke Ellington-like near-waltz “Friends Call Her Dot,” which simply begs to be used in a neo-noir film, and the poignant, pensive ballad “Bonnie Be Good.”
Loaded with subtle references to Southern blues, gospel, and folk, Landmarks is less about Blade and company flexing their considerable abilities and more about evoking shades of mood and place. (Blue Note)