Michael Blake: Kingdom of Champa
"Vietnam is a mystical and strange place. After centuries of rule by Chinese, French, and Americans, the Vietnamese have become an independent nation and the people have begun to rebuild their lives. The spirit, beauty and hardship of these people would be the foundation for a suite of music I call Champa. To a certain extent this documentation of my experience living with my wife and her family in Vietnam is a metaphor of a journey into the self. In this place I encountered an infinite sadness that forced me to reevaluate many ideals I had established and conditionally accepted. It also brought great joy to me and an opportunity to realize my potential. My mind and soul were awakened by the extremes of the culture, no matter how I resisted to adapt to it."Michael Blake (1997)
Kingdom of Champa is the debut album from saxophonist and composer Michael Blake, whose work with the Lounge Lizards has gained him recognition everywhere that band plays. He is joined on this recording, produced by master Teo Macero, by his band Free Association, augmented by several musicians with whom he has played, both in and out of the Lounge Lizards. A well-known member of what has been referred to as the second generation of Knitting Factory musicians, Blake composed all the material on Champa, basing it on his experiences in Vietnam. The permanent members of Blake's band are fellow Lizards David Tronzo (on guitar) and trumpeter Steven Bernstein and former Lizards' percussionist Billy Martin and vibraphonist Bryan Carrott. On this recording, the ensemble is rounded out with flautist Thomas Chapin, Marcus Rojas (tuba), Rufus Cappadocia on cello, bassist Tony Scherr, and drummer Scott Neumann. As band leader, composer, and saxophonist, Blake's talents are wonderfully showcased on this recording.
The idea for Kingdom Of Champa came to Blake while he was travelling from Ho Chi Minh City to Hue (listening to Miles Davis's Sketches Of Spain). The emotions engendered by that journey, the music, the people, the food, the smells of Vietnam, as well as the music of his own life in the United States, all blend together on Champa to create an exciting compositional hybrid. The album is named after the Cham people, who despite their small numbers are an important part of Vietnamese history. All the compositions are Blake's, with the exception of Folksong, a traditional Vietnamese song Blake heard being played by a blind guitarist in Ho Chi Minh City, for which he did the arrangements. Champa is a very immediate and emotional musical travelogue of a country both well known and extremely foreign to North Americans.
Kingdom Of Champa is saxophonist Michael Blake's first opportunity to perform completely in an environment of his own creation; in conjunction with Free Association, producer Teo Macero, and engineer Scott Harding, he has come up with a moving and exciting debut.