Brian Blade commences with a quiet pulse on “He Died Fighting,” setting the stage for an appropriately militaristic opening statement. But as the rest of his long-standing Fellowship Band gathers around, the track opens up into a vista of astonishing emotional complexity.
Pianist Jon Cowherd then starts working in tandem with Blade’s ever more compelling cadence, even as the saxophone lines move jaggedly from contemplative introductory asides into the dark turbulence associated with struggle. As “He Died Fighting” (the lead track from Blade’s forthcoming return to Blue Note, Landmarks) marches ever forward, saxists Myron Walden and Melvin Butler begin working in tandem, even as bassist Chris Thomas helps steer the group back toward a dramatic recapitulation of the main theme. Along the way, the Brian Blade and the Fellowship Band have created the kind of complex collective improvisation that can only be absorbed over multiple listens — revealing new outbursts of feeling and intellect each time.
Landmarks, co-produced by Blade and Cowherd, is the Fellowship Band’s first Blue Note release since their 1998 eponymous debut and 2000 follow up Perceptual. Remarkably, the lineup has remained the same over that period, with only the addition of a pair of guitarists in Marvin Sewell and Jeff Parker for this new release, due April 29, 2014.
Seven of this forthcoming project’s 10 songs were recorded at Blade Studios, founded by the drummer’s older brother Brady Blade in their hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana. Landmarks is being released in tandem with the Shreveport-based Mid-City Records.