Eight years is a pretty wide space between recordings‚ and that's how long it's been since Brian Blade went into the studio with the Fellowship Band. Mind you‚ the brilliant drummer has had a few things on his plate -- his ongoing membership in the Wayne Shorter Quartet‚ for example. Maybe it just took that long to come up with Season of Changes‚ which is one of the more heartening discs you'll hear this year.
Jon Cowherd and Kurt Rosenwinkel transfix you on the beautiful opening to "Rubylou's Lullabye." Cowherd's single piano notes lay the foundation for Rosenwinkel's chiming guitar. It's simple‚ it's stark‚ and when the full band kicks in the piece's glorious establishing riff‚ you're ready to go anywhere. Melvin Butler and Myron Walden give great harmonic‚ as Butler's tenor and Walden's bass clarinet join forces with Cowherd and Rosenwinkel to make a sound nobody is even attempting.
Although Walden brings some pretty hot alto sax to the date‚ his bass clarinet evokes Eric Dolphy as he and Cowherd mix Eastern and Western philosophies -- both musical and spiritual -- on the meditative "Improvisation." It's not the only time religious symbolism is a motivator on Season. Later track titles include "Alpha and Omega" and "Omni‚" while "Return of the Prodigal Son" mirrors the parable: We "see" someone walking down the path towards his home‚ and one hell of a party ensues.
If the iconography turns you off‚ Rosenwinkel will definitely turn you on. His muscular guitar does business at the intersection of Scofield and Metheny; he's the booster rocket that lifts "Prodigal Son" and the suite-like title track‚ and he almost salvages the plodding "Most Precious One (Prodigy)." Attention must be paid to Cowherd and the reed players‚ but Rosenwinkel is the heavy hitter here.
Blade's drumming is dazzling‚ as expected -- nuanced one moment‚ cataclysmic the next. Rather than make this a drummer's date‚ Blade backs off in favor of the underlying message. Season offers things that are in short supply in Bushworld: Uplift‚ optimism‚ and comfort. Whatever its inspiration‚ that's a pretty cool offer.