Johnathan Blake - Trion

Label: Giant Step Arts, 2019

Personnel - Chris Potter: tenor saxophone; Linda May Han Oh: double bass; Johnathan Blake: drums.


Johnathan Blake is an influential drummer known for his resolute actions and instinctive reactions. His trio with saxophonist Chris Potter and bassist Linda May Han Oh is an example of both musical cohesion and freedom. Thus, the title Trion, which in physics means a singlet state formed from three atoms of different colors, couldn’t have been more appropriate to identify this double-album recorded live at The Jazz Gallery in New York and released on Jimmy Katz’s imprint Giant Step Arts.

Both discs open with a solo statement by Blake: “Calondedrum”, named for an evergreen tree native in Africa, and “Bedrum”, which means ‘drum about in celebration’. Speaking about celebration, it’s impossible to get away from the jubilant rhythmic expression of The Police’s “Synchronicity I”, which, maintaining the original time signature of 6/4, feels like a lively post-bop rollercoaster ride where Potter delves into a phenomenal and disseminative grooving idiom. The indelible hookup between Oh and Blake branches out in powerful statements. The bassist takes some time digging strong rhythmic figures and the drummer, in phase with his bandmates, pushes forward before the tradeoffs with Potter. Other celebratory occasions that encourage cultural diversity and eclectic sounds can be found on Potter’s optimistic “Good Hope”, a blazing South African-inspired piece where Blake makes shakiness a virtue with a gifted Afro-centric pulse. The saxophonist is not just mercurial here, also loading Blake’s gospel-inflected “West Berkeley St.” with ecstatic vibes. This last tune was named after a street in Philadelphia, where the drummer grew up.

No matter the angle from which the trio approaches the music, you will feel an energy that engulfs you wave upon wave. “One For Honor”, penned by bassist Charles Fambrough, is a wonderful example, stretching with a playful disposition that melds swing and Latin jazz. If Potter is determined and goes timbral in the final vamp, Blake summons many colors, adding gravity and tension to his playing.

Both “Blue Heart” and “No Bebop Daddy” drift effortlessly with a three-time feel. The former is a previously unrecorded piece by Blake’s father - jazz violinist John Blake, Jr., while the latter composition was inspired by Donny McCaslin’s young son’s frustration about the music chosen by his father while driving him to school. This number evinces a moderate inclination to rock and boasts a bass solo that combines articulation with sensitivity and deliberation. Even if no bebop is found here, Parker’s “Relaxin’ at Camarillo” brings it back.

Linda Oh’s compositional contribution is a time-shifting piece swamped in metaphors called “Trope”. After delving in a three-minute solo intro, she literally provides harmonic substance for Potter’s melodies with Blake filling every corner with enchanting brushed cymbals.

These leading contemporary jazz figures employ their accurate sense of direction, improvisatory ferocity, and instinct for groove, catapulting Blake’s artistic statement to a place of distinction.

Grade  A-

Grade A-

Favorite Tracks:
02 (disc1) - Synchronicity I ► 05 (disc1) - One For Honor ► 02 (disc2) - Good Hope