Michael Blake: Biography
"Panoramic imagination"The New York Times
Born: May 19, 1964 in Montreal, Canada
Ever since striking out on his own with his breathtaking debut CD Kingdom of Champa, Michael Blake has established himself as a leading voice in contemporary music. The saxophonist and composer consistently makes music that bristles with originality and vision. Blake has made New York City his home for over 25 years and this residency has been an important factor in respect to his artistic development. He has collaborated with countless other musicians, scored music for TV and film and performed in the worlds finest concert halls. He also lends his talents as a worldclass saxophonist to dozens of projects led by master musicians. Instinctively Michael's music is rooted in jazz but his style is impossible to categorize. Untainted by cliché or preconceived expectations, Michael's albums and performances underline the importance of jazz as a living art form.
Michael has produced 10 CD's as a leader, each album highlighting his talents for arranging and conceiving new material. This year Blake's steadfast output continues with two radically different releases.
The first, his latest on Songlines Records is In the Grand Scheme of Things, an elctro-acoustic program of originals inspired by the cycle of life that binds us all. This beautifully recorded album showcases Blake's Vancouver group the Variety Hour with keyboardist Chris Gestrin at the MOOG synthesizer.
On the second, Union Square (Abeat) Michael, Ben Allison and Rudy Royston offer an album that's powerful and thoughtful, a personal statement that reflects who they are as musicians and their place in time and modern culture. Full of grand dynamics and interplay this masterful trio allows the conversation to unfold in a natural way.
Michael's 2010 CD Hellbent is from a live performance and highlights the saxophonist's fearless improvising. So does Control This (Clean Feed), an engaging free-jazz duo album with the powerful Danish/American drummer Kresten Osgood. His critically acclaimed debut CD Kingdom of Champa (Intuition) was released in 1997. Produced by the legendary Teo Macero, it is an empathetic musical travelogue of Vietnam featuring a brilliant cast of NY players. Its follow-up album Drift (Intuition) was chosen by Jazzthing Magazine's Critics Pick as Best CD of 2000. Right Before Your Very Ears (Clean Feed) is an off-the-cuff improvised album for Trio. Elevated (Knitting Factory Works) would be a traditional quartet album but for Scott Harding's ingenious production. With a cunning and young rhythm section urging him on, his Copenhagen based group Blake Tartare produced both Blake Tartare and More Like Us (Stunt Records). Two subsequent albums include forays into new waters and highlight Blake's writing for percussion and strings: 2007's Amor de Cosmos (Songlines) and 2008's The World Awakes/A Tribute to Lucky Thompson (Stunt Records).
His tenure with John Lurie and the Lounge Lizards lasted from 1990-2000 and includes numerous record dates, TV appearances, a live concert film from Berlin, and film soundtracks such as the Grammy nominated score for Get Shorty. During this period he was also a Composer in Residence in the Jazz Composers Collective, a nonprofit, musician-run organization dedicated to presenting original works. Another important group he co-lead was the instrumental rock band Slow Poke. Along with David Tronzo on slide guitar, producer/bassist Tony Scherr and drummer Kenny Wollesen, Slow Poke produced two albums: Slow Poke at Home (Palmetto) and Redemption (Intuition).
Michael is a respected teacher and conducts workshops and classes in tandem with many of his concerts. He is on faculty at the Fondazione Siena Jazz Summer Workshop (2009-12) and has also taught at NYU and The New School. On his blog Blake expresses his personal opinions and shares anecdotes and memoirs. He lives with his son in Brooklyn, NY and has a daughter in Vancouver, BC.
This fall Michael will be touring in China (Oct 11-21) with the Swiss trombonist Samuel Blaser. The Jazz Composers Collective celebrates their 20th Anniversary at NYC's friendliest jazz club The Jazz Standard (Nov 6-11). The Variety Hour tours across Canada in January 2013.
Among the many artists he has recorded and performed with are Ben Allison, Hamid Drake, Oliver Lake, Nicole Mitchell, Kenny Werner, Greg Osby, Eric Harland, Steve Cardenas, Matt Wilson, Frank Kimbrough, Ted Nash, Steven Bernstein, Evan Lurie, Ben Perowsky, George Colligan, Grachon Moncour III, Medeski Martin and Wood, Ray Lamontagne, Enrico Rava, Stefano Bollani, Jeff Ballard, Larry Grenadier, Giovanni Guidi, Gianluca Patrella, Thomas Morgan, Gerald Cleaver, Mark Helias, Mario Pavone, Tommaso Cappellato, Bill Ware, Groove Collective, The Gil Evans Orchestra, Kamikaze Ground Crew, Jack McDuff, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Ben E. King, Chubby Checker, Neil Sedaka, Dione, Natalie Cole, Tricky, Prince Paul, Hal Wilner, Sir Coxsone Dodd and Pinetop Perkins.