Ron Blake: Mistaken Identity

Former Roy Hargrove and Art Farmer saxman and current Christian McBride sideman leads standards and originals with guitarist Bobby Broom

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Ron Blake acts his age and delivers a thoughtful piece of modern jazz, his first album as a leader in 15 years. The 58-year-old veteran of the Roy Hargrove and Art Farmer bands, currently part of the Christian McBride Big Band, teams up with guitarist Bobby Broom, his long-time associate who recruited Blake into his own group in the early 1990s. The pianoless quartet format is very enticing, a wide-open space for the saxophonist’s lyrical renditions of standards and originals.

He pays homage to various mentors and heroes. Allison is a half-forgotten late-career tune by Sonny Rollins. It’s one of the prettiest melodies you’ll ever hear and features the typically interactive and warm-blooded interaction of Blake and Broom. Benny Golson’s famous Stablemates is remarkable for Blake’s simultaneously muscular and lithe tenor playing. These are but two examples of Blake’s constant creativity. It is quite striking how he develops connecting story lines from phrases that one would usually expect a soloist to use to end a solo. He blows phrases like a teenager throwing spitballs in class. The teacher smashes them right back on his desk. Theirs is a friendly relationship.

Coupled with a deep and pleasant sound, all this makes up for a great listen, not least Blake’s own Beyond Yesterday’s Tomorrows, which finds him sparring beautifully and fluently with the uptempo post-bop tune’s suspenseful movements. Broom is equally inspired on this date, relishing the subtle polyrhythm and lovely melody line of Duke Pearson’s Is That So?. The drum and bass tandem of Reuben Rodgers and Kobi Watkins lively cue in Victor Provost’s calypso title track, a festive celebration of Blake’s roots in the Virgin Islands. It is one of two tracks wherein Blake switches smoothly and excitedly to baritone saxophone.

Mistaken Identity makes no secret of the musical identity of the underrated Ron Blake, who compares favourably to high-profiled so-called stars of jazz. Perfect course material for burgeoning saxophonists around the globe.


Discography
Is That So?; Allison; When We Were One; No Hype Blues; Beyond Yesterday’s Tomorrows; Grace Ann; Stablemates; To Be; Mistaken Identity (49.36)
Blake (ts, bar); Bobby Broom (g); Nat Reeves (b; 1-4, 7); Reuben Rodgers (b; 5, 6, 8 & 9); Kobi Watkins (d). New York City, 2023.
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