Brian Blade Fellowship – Season Of Changes (2008)

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by S. Victor Aaron

This is one I’ve been eagerly anticipating for a while; I’ve even said as much when I reviewed his last album, Perceptual. The wait finally ended on May 8 with the release of Season Of Changes. In that eight year span, Blade was providing drumming for every big name out there, but still getting his Fellowship Band together for occasional gigs. That’s enabled the group to just pick up where they left off.

As before, Blade strikes a delicate but seamless balance between jazz, folk and rock. Also as before, he leads the band by nurturing a distinct group sound, not by taking all the best solos (in fact, he doesn’t really solo at all). It’s a spiritual, pastoral kind of music, not such much pushing out the frontiers of jazz as much as gently nudging them so that you are aware that this is something no one else is quite doing, but it doesn’t jolt you out of your comfort zone, either.

The compositions again are all originals, with songwriting chores split between Blade and his keyboardist Jon Cowherd. Guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, saxophonists Myron Walden and Melvin Butler and bassist Chris Thomas are also carried over from the prior album.

From the majestically building “Rubylou’s Lullaby” to the Coltranian harmonics of “Omni”, there’s never a time when the level of artistry and collective spirit isn’t at a high level. That’s even present on the semi-curveball of the album, the straight-ahead rocking “Most Precious One (Prodigy).”

As good as this record is, Season of Changes is still a quarter step down from Perceptual. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why. Maybe it’s the mere fact that it doesn’t represent a big leap from Perceptual despite there not being a single weak track in the whole set. But the absence of pedal steel guitarist Dave Easley is definitely a factor. He was responsible for adding just a touch of rural flavor to Blade’s idiosyncratic soundscape, and his absence takes away one of the distinguishing aspects from it.

That is to say, Season Of Change isn’t outstanding in the once-ever-ten-years way; it’s merely another solidly excellent effort from Blade and the Fellowship. If you like jazz even a little bit, don’t even think about missing out on this one.

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