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Brian Blade Fellowship: Open-Sky Music

Jazz's underlying potency often reflects the power of the African-American religious experience. When jazz musicians serve the song, the ensemble functions like a congregation. If the goal is a visceral transfer of emotion, then redemption is at hand.

Few have matched the intensity of the quest the way saxophonist John Coltrane did in the 1960s. But the Brian Blade Fellowship, a sextet whose name underscores its chief tenet, is finding the path of the enlightened. Blade, the son of a Baptist minister from Louisiana, has been the propulsive drummer behind Wayne Shorter, Bob Dylan, and Joni Mitchell, as well as a number of Daniel Lanois productions.

Season of Changes, Fellowship's third recording, is open-sky music, a blend of folksy instrumentals and expansive possibility. "Return of the Prodigal Son," a composition by pianist Jon Cowherd, features solos from guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel and saxophonist Melvin Butler (himself a scholar of Pentecostal music experience). Blade, meanwhile, provides the continuous rhythmic flow.

The song, like the parable, is a homecoming story. Eight years have passed since Fellowship's last release, and during that time, Brian Blade has been more prodigious than prodigal. Waste not, want more.

On June 18 at 9 p.m. ET, WBGO and NPR Music present the Brian Blade Fellowship in concert at the Village Vanguard in New York.

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Copyright 2008 WBGO

Josh Jackson
Josh Jackson is the associate general manager for content at WRTI in Philadelphia.