So I'm having a little chat with one of my Internet music nerd writer friends and, right in the middle of yakking about all things jazz review, he come out and asks if I've heard Brian Blade's recent singer-songwriter album. Singer-songwriter? My mind flashes through several thoughts, included in that is the fear that I've started to slip and have forgotten this folk-type person who shares a name with jazz drummer Blade. Brian Blade? The guy who has played with Kenny Garrett, Joshua Redman, Wayne Shorter, and Charlie Haden? Brian Blade of the Brian Blade Fellowship? Yes, that's the one.
As it turns out Blade is indeed a fine singer-songwriter. If you take a peek at his list of credits, it appears he has played in a wide variety of related contexts. The shortened list includes Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Emmylou Harris, Norah Jones, and Daniel Lanois. Mama Rosa is a collection of songs that Blade didn't even intend to release. Over the years, he's been quietly composing and recording songs at home on a four-track. It took uber-musician friend Daniel Lanois to convince him to flesh out the material and get it released. If anybody has an ear, it is definitely Lanois…and it certainly did not fail him here. The songs are quite heartfelt and personal, and Blade's voice is fine, reedy, and assured. One striking difference with this record as opposed to a lot of other modern folk albums is that Blade makes some unusual harmonic choices here and there. You can definitely notice his jazz influence, even as he shapes it for this context. It's really a beautiful (and slightly stunning) thing.
For some reason, the discovery of this music resonates (in my mind anyway) with what's going on in the rest of the world, both with this recession and with my own life. Every day there is news of businesses calling it quits. General Motors is giving up on Saturn. Bankruptcy is everywhere. A few weeks ago, I drove up the street and noticed that my local video store had closed. A day or two later, people were there loading all of the display cases into a big truck. At the moment, things are shrinking. But sooner or later, the monetary pressure will reverse course and then the question will be: what will step in to fill the gap? You know it will happen. It always does. The new growth surely follows the burning of the field.
Brian Blade's "shocking" transformation made me step back to observe my writer self. An email shows up from a publicist inquiring about possible coverage of a particular artist. While I'm in the middle of checking the list of recently-arrived material, a quick thought-chain is traversed that involves my high school self, college, career, marriage, music, divorce, more music, another marriage, and serious family issues. The writer that I have become appears only recently in this thought timeline. So when "the writer" shows up, it still has some shock value for me. A writer? But aren't you a…?
Yes, my brain is still troubled by this cognitive haze but it does illustrate (at least to me) that great things can happen when you ignore what is expected and allow yourself to move in a different direction.