Brian Blade Fellowship, Perceptual (53:55) Blue Note 23571, 2000 Cyberhome: www.brianblade.com The Brian Blade Fellowship's sophomore release combines the improvisational emphasis of jazz with the majestic sweep of art-rock. Whereas the group's debut was produced by Daniel Lanois, this one is produced by Blade and his pianist, Jon Cowherd. Guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel makes his entry into the band, joining Blade and Cowherd, saxophonists Melvin Butler and Myron Walden, pedal steel virtuoso Dave Easley, and bassist Christopher Thomas. Lanois plays guitar and pedal steel on a couple of tracks, and Joni Mitchell makes an enchanted guest appearance on the haunting "Steadfast." Blade plays acoustic guitar and sings beautifully on "Trembling," a brief, concluding mantra.
While the musicianship on the record is unparalleled, the overall mood is a bit somber, and arguably a bit grandiose. But Blade and Cowherd (the pianist wrote three of the tunes) succeed in conveying a piece of their souls, prompting us toward reflection and even prayer. We'll look back on records like these and marvel at how the boundaries and definitions of "jazz" were changing around the year 2000. ~David R. Adler
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