“Of Kindred Souls” is another original Blake composition. It was first recorded by Roy Hargrove in 1993 on the CD of the same name, but has been re-cast here with Regina Carter’s classic violin strains. Blake states, “I was looking for a melody that would lend itself to a duet for violin and tenor. Regina came and did what she does so well, adding a beautiful color and presence to the song.” Bassist Christian McBride, with whom Blake has worked for eight years, and who produced Lest We Forget, is featured on Bobby Hutcherson’s composition, “Teddy,” and also on the soulful “What Is Your Prayer For?” composed by Blake.
As a musician who is at-home with the jazz tradition, Blake also included some standards on the date. “Please Be Kind,” from the Sammy Cahn songbook, is rendered in telepathic reverence as a sax/piano duet. Blake, Cain, and the Brazilian percussionist Gomes add their own interpretation to Ivan Lins’ immortal composition, “The Island.” “This was a song Michael suggested,” says Blake. “All we had to do was let it play itself.” About “Remember The Rain,” the other sax/piano duet featured on Shayari and another original composition, he adds, “This song is related to ‘What Is Your Prayer For?’ It’s a chance to interpret melody without harmonic improvisation unlike other songs on the recording.”
Pianist Michael Cain’s influence on Shayari is also evident on his two contributions, the Latin-tinged “76” and “Come Sun,” a composition that highlights Blake’s classical lyricism. Other selections include “Hanuman,” named for the Hindu deity [from the Sanskrit epic Ramayan (Way of the Rama) of ancient India]. The track, “Abhaari”—another word from the sub-continent meaning “gratitude”—is a two-movement composition that, along with “Hanuman,” was composed collectively by Blake, Cain, and DeJohnette.
The origins of Ron Blake’s tradition-honed eclecticism can be traced back to the Virgin Islands where he was born and reared. At age 8, Blake took guitar lessons; then, two years later, he switched to the alto saxophone in his elementary school band. He loved playing calypso and other music from the region. He graduated from Michigan’s Interlochen Arts Academy, and later matriculated into Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, where he received the Presidential Award for Outstanding Artistic and Academic Achievement. In 1987, Blake’s jazz career began in St. Thomas, where he taught in summer music programs. He was introduced by, and performed with jazz luminaries Dizzy Gillespie, Bobby Hutcherson, and Gary Bartz at the first Virgin Islands Jazz Festival. Later, he won a National Endowment for the Arts Grant to study with Bartz. After his graduation from Northwestern University, Blake worked extensively in the Chicago-area with the Chicago Jazz Orchestra, performing behind such legends as Louis Bellson, Clark Terry, Nancy Wilson. He was mentored by many of the Windy City’s jazz statesmen, including Von Freeman, Willie Pickens, and Bunky Green.
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