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Brian Blade: Live at the Village Vanguard

Widely recognized as one of the finest drummers in modern jazz — or in all of popular music, for that matter — Brian Blade directed the spotlight onto his compositional and bandleading talents when he helmed his Fellowship Band in a live performance at the Village Vanguard, broadcast live on air by WBGO and live online at NPR Music.

Blade's band began much as their new record Season of Changes does, performing the first four tracks in the order in which they begin the album, before branching deeper into their repertoire and ending with a new, unrecorded composition. On full display were the shifting moods, pastoral textures and elegant soloing with which the Fellowship Band has distinguished itself for over a decade. Their intricate music ebbed and flowed, yielding broad spaces for tasteful improvisation bookended by cathartic climaxes or meditative themes. The sextet deployed a wide range of tone colors, from open-sounding guitar sustains to clamorous cymbal work to duets for bass clarinet and pump organ.

The members of the Fellowship coalesce around the writing of Blade and keyboard player Jon Cowherd; the long-standing rapport of the ensemble ensures that Blade and Cowherd can work with specific voices and collective expression in mind. A thoroughly modern jazz band, the Fellowship is no neo-classical hard bop ensemble; it openly seeks emotive power in sinuous lyricism, open voicings, and the guitar twang of country and folk music. Behind it all is the subtly virtuosic rhythmic finesse on which Blade has made his name.

Having soaked up the musical lessons of his native Louisiana, Blade first emerged on the national jazz landscape in the 1990s amid talented peers such as Brad Mehldau and Joshua Redman. As his generation of young lions turned into the standard-bearers of contemporary jazz, his talents also have garnered him frequent appearances and recordings with legends like Wayne Shorter. Blade hasn't limited himself to jazz alone; he has played on records with Emmylou Harris, Joni Mitchell, and Bob Dylan, among others.

As the leader of the Fellowship Band, Blade was first able to document his compositions on 1998's critically acclaimed Brian Blade Fellowship, produced by Daniel Lanois. It was followed by the equally beloved Perceptual in 2000. Eight years later, Blade's long-awaited third album Season of Changes was released this spring.

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