Category Archives: Alex Blake

Now is the Time (Live at The Knitting Factory): The Alex Blake Quintet

So here’s a little teaser for the brain cells. We’re looking for the year that this record was made.

Here in the UK we were out of step with our neighbours (the Euro was introduced), there were terrorist incidents in Brixton, Brick Lane and Soho (2 killed and over 90 other victims) and Tracey Emin’s bed was displayed as part of her Turner Prize submission.

In the States, a President (Clinton) was impeached but acquitted, a drugs cheat won his first Tour de France and a legal case was brought to shut down Napster file sharing.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose as the French folk have been heard to say.

Prince offers another clue:-
“I was dreamin’ when I wrote this, so sue me if I go too fast
But life is just a party and parties weren’t meant to last.”

I think you’ve probably got it and Prince will confirm:-

“Say say two thousand zero zero party over, oops, out of time
So tonight I’m gonna party like it’s nineteen ninety-nine.”

It is estimated that in 1999 only 1/5 of the population of the United Kingdom had access to the Internet.

By December 1999 the TriBeCa district of New Yok City was no longer a down at heel home for aspiring artists and musicians. The big money had squeezed most of them out. It was still the location of The Knitting Factory, a celebrated performance venue and it was there that bassist, Alex Blake recorded this fine set with Pharoah Sanders sitting in on tenor saxophone.

As you will guess, it was the prospect of hearing Sanders play live that led me to seek out this recording. Blake was not a musician that I was familiar with but, bearing in mind that a stranger is a potential friend that you have not met yet, I ordered my copy.

So let’s settle back at our table for this performance.

On the Spot opens with a drum prelude before the tune is introduced. It is a close relative of John Coltrane’s Giant Steps and it offers a springboard for Pharoah to take off from. In 1999 he was 59 years old and playing with brilliance as the first soloist. John Hicks, Sanders’ regular accompanist sparkles on piano before Victor Jones is given a drum solo.

A further percussion intro leads into The Chief, a second Blake composition. Hicks demonstrates his creativity over a a solid progression with Blake’s bass to the fore. He offers up an impressive solo as the piece moves along briskly with a sense of excitement that still sounds contemporary.

Blake shifts to electric bass for Little Help, a solo based on Lennon and McCartney’s With a Little Help From My Friends. It is novel to hear the bass as the lead guitar and this is a track which is not to be missed and which should be better known than it is.

Blake plays a solo introduction on his acoustic bass (with some vocalisation- omitted from the selection below) to the title track Now is the Time. This is another bustling theme, well suited to an exciting live performance. Hicks entrances and Pharoah offers up a solo played towards the acidic edge of the tenor saxophone. There is also some more very impressive bass from Alex Blake. You can take a listen courtesy of Supajazz on YouTube:-

To play either touch or click on the arrow

Finally, the album closes with Mystery of Love, a tune with a ballad at its heart by Guy Warren, a Ghanaian musician and social activist who was influential through his encouragement of black Americians seeking to make positive links with Africa.

This is the only relatively readily available album led by Alex Blake. He continues to perform in 2017 as a member of Randy Weston’s band. He was born in Pamama in 1951 and grew up in Brooklyn, NY. He started his career as a musician with Sun Ra’s Arkestra before playing Fusion with Lenny White and Billy Cobham and playing on recordings by Pharoah Sanders, Yusef Lateef. He also had a lengthy stint with Manhattan Transfer.

Pharoah Sanders and John Hicks sparkle without dominating and since Now is the Time still sounds great my suggestion is that it should be purchased if you come across it.

The band etc.:- Alex Blake (acoustic bass, electric bass track 4, Percussion, vocals); Pharoah Sanders(tenor saxophone); John Hicks (piano); Victor Jones (drums); Neil Clark (percussion); Chris Hunter (additional alto saxophone). Recorded live 6 December 1999 at The Knitting Factory, New York City. Produced by: Alex Blake. Recording Engineers: Peter Katis &Sascha Van Oetzen. Cover photo / booklet: Eric Decker. Art Direction and Design: Rudi Reitberg. Issued in 2000: Bubble Core Records BC030.

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