Anyone who's heard Christian McBride's blinding‚ star-studded triple-disc Live at Tonic (Ropeadope‚ 2006) knows the fire Ron Blake's tenor sax is capable of breathing. On Shayari - Blake's third disc as a leader - the electricity and histrionics of Tonic are left behind‚ but the fire still remains. It's just been re-purposed.
The word "shayari" basically translates to "couplet" in Hindi. Given that most of the pieces on Shayari demonstrate all the ways you can move off of a single musical figure‚ this disc is the equivalent of taking single lines of poetry and deconstructing them to the nth degree. If you're a survivor of Literary Criticism 101‚ please don't let that assessment frighten you. What we have here is a series of intimate conversations between Blake‚ pianist/producer Michael Cain‚ and a series of "third voices"; just don't confuse "intimate" with "sedate."

Jack DeJohnette slides in on drums behind Cain's hypnotic foundation on "Atonement" and takes the passion up notch by notch‚ sharpening Blake's edges until both musicians are practically playing in tongues. DeJohnette - still an undeniable force at age 65 - tag teams with percussionist Gilbert Gomes for most of Shayari‚ and the effect is wonderfully complimentary: While DeJohnette summons fire and thunder on his tracks‚ Gomes brings accent and contrast. He adds an extra twirl to "Waltz for Gwen" and makes Ivan Lins' "The Island" a funeral for a memory.
Other guests stay for shorter periods‚ but the effects are long-lasting. Blake and Regina Carter create indescribable harmony on "Of Kindred Souls" as Carter's violin recalls the days of Django Reinhardt and Le Hot Club; McBride contributes phat double bass to the easy blues "What Is Your Prayer For" and a bopping take on Bobby Hutcherson's "Teddy." In the end‚ though‚ Blake and the lyrical Cain don't need anyone but each other: Their duets on "Remember the Rain" and Sammy Cahn's "Please Be Kind" show a mutual understanding of immeasurable depth.
Shayari starts 2008 on a note that is both powerful and introspective. Considering the tumult that is forecast for the last year of President Dubya‚ a little introspection is both needed and welcome.
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